BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – It’s called ‘processing’. And sometimes processing involves a process.
It took some time for the Elco football team to process head coach Bob Miller’s motivational halftime speech. But when it finally did click for them, the Raiders showed they fully understood the message.
On Friday night, Elco scored three touchdowns in a 6:41 span of the fourth quarter to overcome Northern Lebanon and score a 28-13 homecoming victory. The Raiders’ inspired, turnover-fueled outburst helped erase what had once been a 13-0 deficit.
Elco junior quarterback/running back Cameron Strause tallied three touchdowns and rushed for 217 yards on 35 carries, as the Raiders improved to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Elco, which has already surpassed its win total of a year ago, could conceivably qualify for a District Three Class AAA playoff berth by winning the last three games on the season.
The loss was Northern Lebanon’s fifth straight and left it 2-5 on the year and 0-4 in Section Three.
“Yeah there was a turning point, at halftime,” said Miller, Elco’s first-year head coach. “No, not the drive before halftime. In here (the locker room), during halftime. And it wasn’t an Xs and Os thing. It was a matter of having eleven guys together. In the first half, it was one guy. The good news is we finally found some heart-guys, and came back in the second half.
“The jury’s still out on whether we’re a good team,” Miller continued. “We have goals beyond Week Seven, but it’s one game at a time. These guys still have some character developing to do as well.”
“We wore down,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall. “They (the Raiders) were playing more kids than we were. And turning the ball over didn’t help.”
While the turning point may have come in the locker room during halftime, on the field it came in the form of Adam Shoemaker’s 44-yard catch and run with a Jeff Martin aerial. From his tight-end position, Shoemaker cut across the middle of the field, hauled in Martin’s pass, then raced down the right sideline for the touchdown that gave Elco a 14-13 edge, with 8:49 to go.
With the lead secured, all the momentum swung to the Raiders’ side.
“He did a nice job in the play-action passing game,” said Miller of Shoemaker. “He had a great second half. Our front and running backs were phenomenal.
“Our offensive line drives what we want to do,” added Miller. “When they’re not playing well, we can’t run the ball, and we can’t throw the ball. Those guys have high expectations too. That’s what drives our philosophy.”
“They’re good,” said Wall of the Raiders. “They beat us. They were better than us.”
Two snaps after Elco got the lead, it recovered a Viking fumble at the NL 24. It took Strause three plays to ramble 16 yards for the touchdown that gave the Raiders a 21-13 advantage.
Then after the Raiders picked off an errant Northern Lebanon pass, they marched 53 yards in seven plays to get a 17-yard scoring jaunt out of Strause. It was 28-13 Elco with 2:08 to go.
“I think there’s two rivals for us, Northern Lebanon and Annville-Cleona,” said Miller. “But one’s not over the other. Annville-Cleona is always a battle.
“Coming in we had three wins,” Miller added. “It’s not coaching, it’s the kids. They’re (his players) no different than they were last year. Incredible kids. Incredible leadership. And tonight it was incredible heart. It’s not coaching. It’s a matter of where they want to be.”
“We didn’t quit,” said Wall. “We only played 14 kids. Our numbers are down and we lost a couple of kids. We wore down. We played the third quarter.
“We’ve lost eight or nine kids since the beginning of the year,” Wall continued. “And they’re all injuries.”
In desperate need of a spark, the Raiders got one just before the break in the form of Strause’s seven-yard touchdown burst off left tackle. With 38 seconds of the second quarter remaining, it resulted from a nine-play, 59-yard march that answered the Vikings’ score of four minutes earlier.
“That was pretty big,” said Miller. “But it wasn’t until they (his players) came in here (the locker room) that we turned it around. That was a big score. And it was the first step.”
Early on, it was all Vikings.
Northern Lebanon turned a blocked punt into a nine-yard scoring pass from Isaac Ray to Pat Stevens and a 7-0 lead, 9:39 into the contest. The Vikings followed that up with a seven-play, 77-yard possession that produced a one-yard, Derek DiAngelis touchdown late in the second period, and a 13-0 advantage.
“They got up 13-0, they were doing something right,” said Miller of the Vikings. “And they hit. I’m going to say it was a little bit of them playing well and a little bit of us not playing well. But their kids hit.
“The thing we’re pleased with is a change in heart,” Miller added. “They (his players) didn’t let the last two weeks (lopsided losses to Garden Spot and Donegal) get them down. We’re pleased with the leadership and the way we came together. It’s something we’ve been looking for. We’re not pleased with the stupid penalties, the missed assignments and when people just do their own thing.”
“We played well early,” said Wall. “We got the lead and we were doing some good things. And then we got hurt.”
Elco limited Northern Lebanon to 187 yards of total offense, while putting up 337 yards of its own. The Raiders accumulated 211 of their yards in the second half, when the Vikings turned the ball over three times.
Martin, a freshman, completed seven of his eight pass attempts for 99 yards.