BY JEFF FALK
Elco has come a long way in a short period of time.
So where are the Raiders now? On the verge of becoming a good football team.
Elco very much resembled a good football team on Friday night at Lebanon Alumni Stadium, while pulling away from Lebanon High 40-18. After the score was tied late in the first half, the Raiders used a punishing ground attack and a crucial kick-off return for a touchdown to tally 28 unanswered points.
Just seconds after the Cedars had knotted the game at 12, Raider junior Cameron Strause returned the ensuing kick-off 88 yards for a touchdown that gave Elco a 19-12 lead at the break. Instead of Lebanon enjoying momentum in the halftime locker room, it all belonged to Elco.
The Raiders took full advantage of the momentum to score touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half.
The outcome moved Elco, which lost its former head coach and starting quarterback days before the opening of training camp, to 2-1. The Cedars’ third straight loss to a Lebanon County foe left them 0-3.
“We’re going to find out now,” said Elco rookie head coach Bob Miller when asked if his club was a good team. “At the beginning of the season we didn’t set goals like districts or the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League). On Monday, we’re going to ask them (his players) where they want to go. I know what they’re going to say. But it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s what you do. Are they going to back it up?”
“It’s too soon to tell,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk when asked about the emotional state of his troops. “Last week was the best week of practice we’ve had since I’ve been here. We had improvement everywhere and spirits were high.”
Strause’s touchdown return came 13 seconds after Lebanon had tied the score at 12 on Jeremy De La Cruz’s three-yard touchdown burst. Strause broke through the first wave of the LHS coverage team, veered right and out raced the rest of the Cedars to the end zone.
“It was big. It was huge,” said Miller of Strause’s return. “I told him to hit back hard and get us good field position. I was really happy for him to see that happen. It was a big swing.
“I’m really, really proud of the kids,” Miller continued. “The kids were so much more physical, emotional and fundamentally sound than last week (in a loss to Steel-High). Last week we realized we can’t have as many missed assignments and still win the game.”
“There’s no question,” said Yonchiuk of the importance of Strause’s return. “I felt the same way. We thought we got the score tied at halftime, and we got the ball to start the second half.”
Elco, which threw the ball only three times all night and didn’t attempt a pass in the second half, employed a bruising offensive line and the hard-running of Strause and tight-end convert Adam Shoemaker to take control of the outcome in the third quarter. Shoemaker’s 32-yard TD jaunt 2:40 after halftime upped Elco’s advantage to 26-12.
A 44-yard run by Strause five minutes later set up Shoemaker for a two-yard scoring burst that made it 33-12. The Raiders settled the affair with a gigantic 15-play 49-yard march that chewed up more than eight minutes of game clock and culminated with Shoemaker’s fourth touchdown of the evening.
Shoemaker finished with 212 yards on the ground, on 22 totes of the pigskin. As a team, Elco ran 49 times for 390 yards.
“No one expected that out of Adam,” said Miller. “That’s a lot to put on a kid. He’s a two-way player and we changed his role this week. I didn’t know he was going to run so hard. And I didn’t know the line was going to perform so well and that Adam would be so up for the game.
“It’s what our kids are,” Miller added. “We want to play to our strengths. The fact that they knew they had pressure on them and they performed so well was impressive.”
“They’re a run team,” said Yonchiuk of the Raiders. “They’re real aggressive up front. I don’t know if they completed a pass. They didn’t have to. They were making holes and running through them. We couldn’t stop them.”
Shoemaker gave a glimpse of things to come when he broke off a 64-yard touchdown run on the first snap of the game. But the Cedars answered 1:07 into the second quarter with their first touchdown of the season – a 36-yard collaboration between quarterback Mark Pyles and sophomore Jeronimo Rodriguez.
In the middle of the second stanza, the Raiders drove 67 yards in eight runs for a five-yard Strause waltz that made it a 12-6 game.
“I don’t know. Go ask them,” said the personable Miller when asked if he’s a players’ coach. “They’re performing for the coaches. With the transition of the coaches, it puts pressure on the players. Meeting our expectations in such a short time shows a lot of ownership.
“We talked about it,” Miller added. ” ‘Lebanon’s not going to turn the ball over and give us the game. If you want to win, you’ve got to take it. For Adam to change positions and perform like that takes a lot of heart and motivation.”
“We saw that they moved number 30 (Shoemaker),” said Yonchiuk. “We were concerned about him at tight-end. He’s fast. He’s a good football player. That was a good coaching move. Physically, up front, they gashed us.”
Strause also collected 164 yards of rushing, with 21 carries. For the Cedars, Piles accounted for 161 of their 364 total yards on 12 of 24 passing.
“The kids have improved a lot,” said Miller. “We have high expectations for them, and we really work hard in practice to fulfill them. We talked to them about being physical. We sent them the message: if you want to win you’ve got to power the ball. Just man-on-man and go after them.'”
The contest also served as the now yearly installment of the ‘Attack Autism’ game for the two Lebanon County programs.
“I did see some improvement on offense,” said Yonchiuk. “I really did. We scored twice. I thought we ran the ball well. And I felt like we missed a couple of touchdown passes. It’s the little things we’ve got to work on, and just hope to continue to improve.”