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BY CHRIS GEORGE

MYERSTOWN – The Elco football team knew it would have its hands full with 4-2 Octorara coming to Myerstown on Friday. For much of the night, however, the Raiders gave the Braves everything they could handle.

Elco was able to move the ball just as easily as the Braves, but points were hard to come by, as Octorara was just the better team in the red zone, on too many occasions.  Those trips to the red zone helped the Braves post a 32-17 road victory.

The first quarter started with both squads trading quick blows, one that had Elco leading 7-6, on a spectacular Jake Williams TD run. Williams had just blocked an extra point following an Octorara touchdown pass from QB Weston Stoltzfus to wide receiver Corey Diantonio, who had a monster night with 151 yards receiving and four scoring catches.

By the way, J. Williams also blocked a punt later as well.  What a great return for the young star.

“He’s exciting, fast, and when he and his brother Luke are out there together, it’s a fun thing to watch,” said Elco head coach Bob Miller. “The way it’s supposed to be.”

J. Williams had missed the first half of the season due to an injury he suffered last year. 

Octorara answered right back with another touchdown pass from Stoltzfus, but once again missed the extra point to make the game 12-7. This setup the most interesting quarter of the night.

In what Elco would call a normal day at the office, it marched 85 yards and held the ball for over 10 minutes, taking it to the Octorara four-yard line. After some timeouts by each coach, and a little cat and mouse action from Coach Miller, ELCO elected to go for it, and gave the ball to L. Williams up the gut, but the Braves were ready and met the challenge, pinning him with a one-yard loss. 

With only 1:30 to go in the half, it seemed Elco would at least head to the locker room within one score. However, in a quick shocking twist, four plays later the Braves scored after going 95 yards with three long passes from Stoltzfus, to take a commanding 19-7 lead.

In a matter of 60 seconds, the Braves had completely stolen the momentum Elco had created in their second-quarter slow march. 

Elco came out of the break looking to answer back, and get within one score. Coach Miller seemed optimistic about his team’s chances at that moment, saying the team looked ready to take advantage of the opportunity.

But bad timing once again hit the Raiders, as it has several times this season, when they fumbled the ball away, and quickly gave Octorara another TD to stretch the lead to 26-7.

Both teams would make several drives the rest of the night that came up short, but in the middle of the fourth quarter they each added an extra touchdown to make the score 32-14. A late field goal by Elco soccer star, and college kicking recruit Rheece Shuey, completed the scoring for a 32-17 night, when a subsequent failed onside-kick stopped any hope for a last-minute comeback.

Elco was able to match the Braves offensively in terms of yards, rushing for over 300 yards, including 150 from bruising senior running back L. Williams. The Braves, on the other hand, did it through the air, with Stoltzfus completing a staggering 15 of 18 passes for more than 250 yards, in one of the more efficient nights you’ll ever see out of a HS quarterback. 

Coach Miller sounded satisfied with his team’s effort on the night if not the final score. They had “Three goals, bring physicality, win on special teams, and make big plays,” and they met them for the most part.

Consistent execution has been the Achilles Heel of the Raiders all season, and it reared its ugly head once again. Miller’s goal for the last few games is to “finish strong, have fun, enjoy it, keep building the team culture, and create a streak to wrap it up.”

If they can continue playing physically and at a high level, while minimizing mistakes, the Raiders should have an excellent chance, even though that road won’t be easy. Annville-Cleona, Columbia, and Northern Lebanon, all having better than expected seasons, are looming.

The Vikings visit Elco next Friday night. With both Williams brothers healthy and in the backfield together again, it should make that goal much more attainable. Along with a slew of young backs, all led by senior QB Cole Thomas, things are looking promising for the Raiders once again.

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