BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Steady offense and inconsistent defense. Turns out the Elco Raiders have been living their football lives in reverse all season.
Last night Elco got a glimpse of how the other half exists, and when the Raiders did they couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What if?’
On a cold Friday night at Elco Stadium, the Raiders’ continuously improving defense turned in its best effort of the season, and produced a 26-14 victory over rival Annville-Cleona. With its front seven stymying the Little Dutchmen most of the evening, Elco never trailed, after opening a two-touchdown lead late in the second quarter.
The win was Elco’s third straight and no so coincidentally represented the second week in-a-row in which it surrendered 14 points. Elco is now 4-5 overall and 4-2 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, while the loss put a huge crimp in Annville-Cleona’s postseason aspirations.
The Little Dutchmen entered the contest 3-5 on the fall, 3-1 in the section and riding a three-game winning streak.
“The difference was we played defense,” said Elco head coach Bob Miller. “We shut down the run pretty good. They got some yards, but we never broke. They (the Little Dutchmen) only had one drive that produced points. We’ve given up five scores in the last three games, and one was a special teams touchdown.
“Yeah, I think it was the best defensive effort of the season,” added Miller. “We knew we were going to score points. We know we’re going to put up three or four touchdowns every week.”
“I don’t think they slowed us down,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman of the Raiders. “We slowed ourselves down. And of course we had penalties. I think it was frustration at that point. You can’t keep a kid from saying things, you can only make him responsible after he does it.
“We didn’t play a very good football game,” Lehman continued. “We played a poor first half. Our offense wasn’t clicking and it was one of those nights. But they (the Raiders) didn’t do anything we didn’t expect.”
After Annville-Cleona missed a 22-yard field goal at the end of the opening stanza, the Raiders pieced together two long scoring marches in the second quarter to take a 12-0 lead.
First Elco marched 80 yards in 12 snaps – seven of which were pass completions – to get a Jeff Martin-to-Derek Miller six-yard touchdown play. Then with 1:15 remaining in the half, Cameron Strause culminated a 10-play, 74-yard possession with a two-yard TD plunge.
But just like that, the Little Dutchmen struck back. Quentin Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for the score that had Annville-Cleona within 12-7 at the break.
“Our line is awesome,” said Miller of his guys up front. “They showed up tonight. I think we gave up one sack tonight. They did a great job. It’s neat because our kids are thinking and they’re calling plays. These kids are starting to learn.
“You can see what we do offensively when we don’t have Cameron,” Miller continued. “He had a terrible offensive first quarter. When he finally gets under control, he really does a good job. And that opens things up for Jeff (Martin) and the receivers.”
“No, it wasn’t the type of game I thought it would be,” said Lehman. “I thought it would be a little higher scoring. I thought they’d (the Raiders) score what they did, and that we would score a little more.
“He (Miller) has a nice little football team,” Lehman added.
Elco limited Annville-Cleona to 45 total yards in the first half and 209 for the game. The Little Dutchmen rushed 32 times for 125 yards and were whistled for 75 yards in penalties.
The Raiders collected 271 yards of total offense.
“We played with a ton of heart,” said Miller. “We made some mistakes. Our whole first quarter was mistake after mistake.
“No, I don’t think they’re (the Little Dutchmen) our biggest rival,” Miller added. “But for the kids, it’s a very, very important game that’s played through the whistle.”
“It’s been both a success and a failure,” said Lehman of his team’s season to this point. “We’ve had highlight and we’ve had downfalls, like tonight. It’s like life. You have ups and downs. We’ll see how we deal with it.
“When we’ve played well we haven’t gotten penalties,” Lehman continued. “We were running the ball better. We were better all around. Mitch’s (quarterback Rodkey) healthy. His ankle is back to normal. We were just out of synch tonight.”
Elco kept momentum in its corner early in the third quarter by recovering the only turnover of the evening. Two plays later, Strause made the Little Dutchmen pay when he galloped 51 yards for the score that pushed the Raiders’ advantage to 19-7.
Annville-Cleona responded with its only sustained possession of the contest, a six-play, 80-yard drive that produced Rodkey’s three-yard touchdown jaunt.
With 7:03 remaining, the Raiders all but put the outcome to rest, turning Jake Stager’s 30-yard punt return and an A-C penalty into Martin’s second touchdown toss, this one to Phil Kline from 12 yards out.
“I don’t want to talk about Annville-Cleona,” said Miller.
“We’re more complete now,” Miller continued. “Some kids don’t let scores get to us, and they’re hanging on to the ball. Jeff (Martin) is making unbelievable reads.”
“The big thing was the section was still there,” said Lehman. “I have no idea about districts.”
Strause finished with 160 yards on 26 totes of the pigskin. Martin completed 17 of his 23 pass attempts, seven of which went to Derek Miller for 55 yards.
Rodkey carried 19 times for 32 yards.