ANNVILLE – Not every scholastic football team in Lebanon County can claim that 2012 has been a success. But Elco and Annville-Cleona can – even though the Raiders and Little Dutchmen may define it in two distinctly different ways.
On Friday, for at least one night, Elco’s brand of success trumped Annville-Cleona’s, in the form of a 21-13 victory. While both teams performed well and each had its moments, it was Elco which enjoyed the better of the play, more.
The Raiders used their now signature running game to control the line of scrimmage and the clock, while opening a 21-6 advantage midway through the third quarter. But the Little Dutchmen refused to go away on their senior night, and made Elco’s final moments some tense ones.
Prolific Adam Shoemaker, a hard-charging runner, scored all three Raider touchdowns, while another Adam, A-C’s Connor, scored both Little Dutchmen TDs. It was that kind of night.
With one game remaining on its regular-season docket – at North Schuylkill – the win officially doubled Elco’s output from a year ago. At 6-3 overall and 4-2 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, the Raiders are still very much alive for a possible District Three Class AAA playoff spot.
Annville-Cleona fell to 3-6 on the fall and 2-3 in the section.
“We are on the track to success,” said Elco’s politically-correct, first-year head coach, Bob Miller. “There’s still Week Ten. The final thing I left them (his players) with on the field is ‘leave it on the line.’ That’s the test. Knowing that when you’re tired, everything you do is a result of your desire.”
“You can base a season on wins and losses if you like,” said Annville-Cleona’s Terry Lehman, the dean of Lebanon County head football coaches. “If you have losses then you base your season on the character of kids. Our kids have had a great experience. They’re great kids. Would we like to have more wins? Yes.”
After the Raiders had opened a seemingly comfortable 15-point margin, Annville-Cleona threw a scare into them with 2:43 remaining when quarterback Mitch Rodkey hooked up with A. Connor for an 87-yard touchdown completion that made it 21-13. The Little Dutchmen did get the ball back with 54 seconds remaining, but could only advance it to their own 46-yard line before the clock expired.
“I don’t care about any mental mistakes because we won,” said Miller. “But it turned into an opportunity to show our heart and desire. We turned a negative into a growing experience. We had two mental mistakes, but they just opened up an opportunity for us.
“What Annville-Cleona does well is utilize athletes,” Miller added. “They do a nice job with the option. They also have the ability to sprint out and have a passing game off that as well.”
“We played them tough,” said Lehman, a graduate of Elco. “It was a good county game. But give them (the Raiders) credit, they beat us.
“Coach Miller does a good job,” Lehman added. “They run that power offense. They handled us up front pretty well. We knew the formations they were going to run. And they have two tough runners (Shoemaker and Cameron Strause).”
Then the Raiders made it 14-0 on the first snap of the second stanza. A Little Dutchmen fumble gave Elco a short field, and Shoemaker made them pay for it from four yards away.
“We did play well enough to win,” said Miller. “It was close at the end, but I’d rather win by 40. Credit their kids with a little bit of heart, and they matched us. But it still counts as a ‘W’.
“I want to score every drive,” Miller continued. “At the end of the third quarter we went almost the length of the field and ate up nine minutes of the clock, that’s where we’re at with the running game. Our kids have done a great job of raising their level of play. They (the Little Dutchmen and every other opponent) know we’re going to run the football.”
“You tell me,” said Lehman when asked how much better his squad played in the second half. “Senior night is tough for the players. They’re emotional and then they’ve got to go play a football game. I love seniors but I hate senior night. Elco jumped us early. But we definitely played a very good second half.”
Annville-Cleona drove the second-half kickoff 58 yards in 11 plays to cut its deficit to 14-6. A. Connor and Rodkey put the finishing touches on the march when they collaborated on a touchdown pass from 15 yards out.
“The significance of this is that I wanted them (his players) to have that sixth win,” said Miller. “It’s a win they deserve. You don’t always get what you want, but they deserved it. They earned it.
“We’ve got a Week Ten game,” continued Miller. “I don’t know if they (his players) know what it’s about. But that means they’re focused, focused and disciplined. Focused on the game at hand.”
“Our numbers are down,” said Lehman. “But everyone’s in that boat. We’re going in cycles. We have three seniors who see the field, and we have a lot of kids coming back. But it is what it is.