EPHRATA – There’s something different about this Northern Lebanon football team. Something that’s difficult to pinpoint, that’s not readily apparent to casual observers.
An approach. A certain attention to detail. The way the players treat one another. Small stuff that can make all the difference in the world.
On Friday night at Ephrata’s newly carpeted War Memorial Field, the reborn Vikings took apart the home-standing Moutaineers 47-6, in the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three opener for both teams. Receiving scoring plays from five different sources – and in four distinctly different fashions – Northern Lebanon tallied a pair of touchdowns in each of the first three quarters, in opening a 47-0 lead early in the fourth, and thus evoking the mercy rule.
With its Week Four victory, Northern Lebanon equaled its entire win total from 2013. The Vikings are now 3-1 overall in the fifth year of a head coach Roy Wall era that has been marked by tough, close losses, disappointment and underachievement.
Ephrata, which had been outscored by a combined margin of 176-0 coming in, plummeted to 0-4 on the campaign.
“There’s a lot more confidence,” said Wall. “It seems like we’re dealing with adversity better. Physically, we’ve always been right there. We put in a lot of work in the off-season. We’re relying on each other, and that’s been a big improvement.
“I think we are a good football team,” continued Wall. “I thought we were a good football team going into the season. We’ve got weapons all over the place. We have good athletes on both sides of the ball.”
“We’re a good team,” said Isaac Ray, Northern Lebanon’s senior quarterback. “We don’t know how good yet. The record shows it. Last year I don’t know if we could’ve been 3-1. The offense is playing better. And the defense is bending, but not breaking.”
A force all evening long, it was that Viking defense that set up the offense with great field position for two quick scores – in a matter of 17 seconds to be exact – late in the opening stanza.
Northern Lebanon took advantage of a short field to get the two-yard Ray touchdown sneak that made it 6-0, with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter. Then the next play after the Vikings pounced on an Ephrata fumble, Ray hit a streaking Mason Yost on a 25-yard post pattern to put the Blue and Gold ahead 14-0.
“We scored 47 points,” said Wall. “We played pretty well.
“I thought we were doing some good things,” Wall added. “It’s a section game. They all matter. I thought we had a decent shot coming in.”
“I thought we played how we should’ve,” said Ray. “But we left some points on the field. We played well, but we didn’t play to our full potential. At halftime we knew we were in good shape. Some of the guys were pretty confident.
“Coming in, we knew we were going to win,” continued Ray. “But we wanted to make a statement.”
Northern Lebanon led 26-0 at the break, thanks to two long touchdown passes by Ray in the second quarter. Ray hit Yost on a deep crossing pattern for 66 yards and ‘six’, two minutes into the stanza, and connected with Tyler Wentzel-Haynes for 70 yards on a fly pattern down the right sideline, 2:01 ahead of intermission.
In less than three quarters of action, Ray completed ten of his 19 pass attempts for 258 yards, the three touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed 13 times for 56 yards.
“He’s definitely showing a lot of leadership,” said Wall of Ray. “It’s the confidence he’s developing. He has confidence in his teammates, and his teammates have confidence in him. Everyone is contributing. It’s offense, defense and special teams.”
“On a scale of one-to-ten, I’d say it’s a seven, just because of turnovers and stalling drives in the red zone,” said Ray, when asked to assess his play. “I’ve grown a lot since my sophomore year, just with my arm strength and reading defenses. That comes with maturity. Nothing can replace experience.”
Northern Lebanon dynamo Travis Gates got into the act late in the third quarter when he blocked a punt and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Then another Isaac – Wengert – came off the bench to hit Yost for the 25-yard touchdown toss that pushed the Vikings advantage to 34-0.
It was Viking Dominic Trader who brought the mercy rule into play when he returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown, on the second snap of the final quarter.
“That’s been our goal all along,” said Wall of an L-L Section Three crown. “Our motto is: ‘One team. One goal.’ It’s wide open. We have as good a shot as anybody else.”
“Oh yeah, we can win the section,” said Ray. “It’s a matter of us executing in all phases of the game. It’s wide open right now.”
By owning the line of scrimmage, the Northern Lebanon defense dominated the Mounts, holding them to 128 yards of total offense, and a mere 64 on the ground. The Vikings caused six fumbles, created ten ‘three-and-outs’ and registered a mind-boggling 17 tackles-for-loss.
Ephrata gained yardage on only 25 of its snaps throughout the entire game.
To raucous applause from the home crowd, the Mounts scored their first points of the season with 1:11 left, on a six-yard touchdown run by Dustin Fisher, against Viking defensive reserves. During an earlier fourth-quarter march to the NL six-yard line, the Vikings had re-inserted their first-team defense to preserve the shutout.
“We’ve been playing well defensively all year,” said Wall. “The most points we gave up all year was 17 to Lebanon. Last year we gave up a hundred points in five days. When it comes to defense, we’re very aggressive. We’re getting smarter. We’re playing with confidence.
“We didn’t want to give up that shutout,” Wall added. “They’re (his players) taking a lot of pride in the defense. That was their idea. They were begging me to go back in there.”
Of Northern Lebanon’s 437 yards of total offense, 312 came in the first half. In addition to his three touchdowns, Yost hauled in eight passes for 177 yards.