BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
SOUTH LEBANON – Before the Cedar Crest football team can learn how to win, it must first learn how not to lose.
On Friday night at Arnold Field at Earl Boltz Stadium, the Falcons suffered the type of loss which can change a season and prove to be a setback to an entire program. For Cedar Crest, it was truly the one that got away.
After squandering a 20-0 third-quarter lead, Cedar Crest fell to Manheim Township 28-26, on Homecoming Night 2013. Throughout the second half, the Falcons were haunted by mistakes, missed opportunities and a bruising Blue Streak ground game that ultimately took its toll on their tiring defense.
Nate Seprinski’s 59-yard touchdown run with 10:47 remaining proved to be the game-winning score for Manheim Township. Cedar Crest, which had misfired on a couple of earlier extra points, drove to the Blue Streaks’ 31-yard line as time was running down, but kicker Soren Frost was ten yards short on a 48-yard field goal attempt, with nine seconds left.
Despite appearing to be the better team over the first half of play, Cedar Crest missed out on a couple of chances to extend a 14-0 lead. In the second half, with the Falcons trying desperately to hold on, Manheim Township gained 264 yards on the ground and had two runners – Cartier Morton and Seprinski surpass the century mark.
The loss dropped the Falcons to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Blue Streaks upped their season record to 4-2 and 2-1 in the section.
“I’ve got no comment,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Warnavage. He shook this reporter’s hand, but never made eye contact, lowered his head and walked away looking at the ground.
On the other side, Waranavage’s counterpart, Mark Evans, a graduate of Cedar Crest, was his usual chatty self.
“Always,” said Evans, who was passed over for the Cedar Crest job that Warnavage now holds, when asked if the win was more sweet than most. “In any game (it’s important), but when you come home (it’s more important). This is my home. It’s bitter-sweet. Unless they’re playing us, you want the Falcons to do well. I love this place. And they’re doing good things here.
“The first half was the worst half of football I’ve seen in my 17 years of coaching,” Evans continued. “And the second half was the best half of football I’ve seen. We went from zero to heroes, from setback to comeback. They’re (the Blue Streaks) going to have me on a pace maker. Our goal was to finish the game with the ball, and we accomplished that.”
One could almost feel the momentum swinging to the Manheim Township side of the field in the third quarter. But Falcon Marq Kintzer’s 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed to stem that tide, as it gave Cedar Crest a 26-14 lead with 5:43 of the period remaining.
But a Falcon fumble set up Davis Carr for a 32-yard touchdown romp that made it 26-21. An earlier Cedar Crest fumble had helped produce the 16-yard Martin TD jaunt that pulled Manheim Township to within 20-14.
“Challenging them was the key,” said Evans of a halftime speech he gave to his troops. The number one thing was that we were self-defeating. The guys kindly did what we asked them to do. We made some key adjustments at halftime. Not many, but there was motivation that came into it. We were flat and lackluster. We have so many self-inflicted wounds, it’s a mircal we can stand.”
“This win is right up there,” added Evans. “It was inspired. I didn’t rant and holler at halftime, I challenged them to play better.”
Cedar Crest appeared to be in really good shape when Damon Edwards took the second snap after halftime 73 yards to pay dirt to put his team up 20-0. But on the Blue Streaks’ very next snap, Morton returned the favor by going 70 yards for a Manheim Township score.
“The ball was bouncing their way early,” said Evans of the Falcons. “But the resiliency of these guys (Blue Streaks), I can’t fault them about that. To me it was, ‘focus on your job.’ It wasn’t anything negative at halftime, we just challenged them.”
Cedar Crest converted a fumble on the Blue Streaks’ opening possession of the game into a 7-0 lead. Senior quarterback Gage Ocker culminated the short Falcon drive with a three-yard burst.
Cedar Crest’s next possession turned into a six-play 63-yard march and Ocker’s 36-yard touchdown run. It was Cedar Crest 14, Manheim Township 0, with 4:22 of the opening quarter remaining – and in the locker room.
“I thought the interception going into halftime woke us up,” said Evans. “It gave us some momentum. We played our worst half of football and were only down 14 points. There’s some really good football players over there. We are getting better, and I know we are going to get better.”
Cedar Crest out gained Manheim Township 341 total yards to 313. Ocker carried 13 times for 112 yards, as 277 of the Falcons’ yards came on the ground.