Let the games begin, this Friday evening football returns to the Lancaster Lebanon League.
What’s new? Four Sections for starters. The last time was 1972.
It’s only a seven game season due to the Covid. So it’s a sprint not a marathon.
1. Wilson: The Bulldogs are just that year-in, year-out. This season with QB Kaleb Brown and running backs Mason Lenart and Jadyn Jones, and WR Troy Corson they will be difficult to contain.
2. Manheim Township: They have 21 new total full-time starters but the Streaks are coached brilliantly by Mark Evans who is in his 76th year having guided the Streaks to a 47-25 record and 6 District 3 playoff berths and will be tough to beat.
3. Penn Manor: When will they be good again? QB Luke Braas returns on offense but the defense is unproven.
4. Hempfield: The Black Knights have a new head coach with George Eager and a new QB. Aidan Power and RB Tanner Hess return. They should be better.
5. Cedar Crest: QB Chris Danz returns and Aadyn Richards who plays both sides of the ball. I think it’s going to be a long, short season for the Falcons.
6. McCaskey: The Red Tornado has lost 17-games in a row. That streak will end this season.
1. Warwick: They move from Section One and have possibly the best team in the LL League. Start with their University of Wisconsin recruit Nolan Rucci, then throw in U of Cincinnati commit Caleb Schmitz, QB Joey McCracken, RB Colton Miller. Coming off of a 10-win season, and a district semifinalist win they are hardened and experienced.
2. Cocalico: No Noah Palm. No Brock Gingrich. No Ronald Zahm. And no coach Dave Gingrich, as Bryan Strohl slides into the pilot’s seat. Sounds like a lot to replace — and it is, don’t get us wrong — but the Eagles, fresh off last year’s D3-5A championship, return a slew of talent, including plenty of beef up front, and a battalion of heavy hitter defenders.
3. Manheim Central: Can the Barons make it six section titles in a row? Of course. Hey, this is Manheim, where they reload. These Barons will have to reload quickly this time around, with 20 total new full-time starters learning on the fly. That’s a bunch. But again, this is Central, and we never, ever worry about the Barons.
4. Solanco: Here’s your sleeper Section 2 outfit; the Golden Mules are bringing back a bevy of hole-openers and pass-protectors up front, and that’s a terrific start in this meat-grinder section. The key in Quarryville is finding a new feature fullback to carry the rock, and getting some other first-time skill-kid performers on the same page. But these guys will leave you black and blue. Book that.
5. Elizabethtown: There are some key pieces coming back in Bear Country, including QB Patrick Gilhool and two-way line threat Jett Kelly, who is an absolute tackle machine and QB-chaser. E-town does have some work to do up front, and finding some playmakers for Gilhool to get the ball to. If the new-look Bears can learn on the go, and come up big defensively, they’ll cause some headaches.
6. Conestoga Valley: Odd picking the Buckskins down here, but CV has a lot of work to do in the trenches — as in, replacing all but one kid up front, and finding some pass-rushers and run-stuffers along the line of scrimmage on defense. And this: The Bucks are dealing with a coronavirus-imposed school shutdown, and they won’t return to the practice field until at least Sept. 22. They’ll also miss their first game on Friday vs. Daniel Boone — school officials are hoping to reschedule that nonleague tilt for a later date — so CV will spend some time this fall kicking off some rust.
1. Lampeter-Strasburg: Plenty to like in Pioneer Country, where L-S is returning a boatload of talent from last year’s D3-4A title team, including major thumpers up front and a cache of playmakers. And this added bonus: QB Sean McTaggart returns after missing his junior season with a knee injury. If he’s back to 100 percent, and if L-S can pick up right where it left off last fall, the Pioneers should have some very, very large expectations.
2. Lebanon: Three things in the Cedars’ favor right out of the chute: First, strong-armed QB Isaiah Rodriguez returns, and the 6-foot-5 specimen has a howitzer. Second, all-star WR Alex Rufe — who had a league-high 74 receptions last fall — is back to terrorize opposing D-backs on the edge. And third — and perhaps most importantly — Lebanon returns its entire starting offensive line for first-year skipper Frank Isenberg.
3. Donegal: A lot of good things cooking in Mount Joy, where the Indians are set to return QB Trent Weaver, reliable backs Mason Ober and Garrett Blake, and multiple vet trench warriors to help blow open holes and, more importantly, clog up the middle defensively. Plenty of motivation here, too; Donegal missed the playoffs the last two years by mere percentage points.
4. Ephrata: Coming off their first 6-win season since 2003, the Mountaineers should be thinking big, especially with a big crop of returning starters. Two of those kids to watch: Andre Weidman making sticks on D and getting more carries out of the backfield, and new QB Miracle Wratto, who has the ability to make a lot of plays on his feet. Ephrata isn’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore.
5. Lancaster Catholic: Chris Maiorino is the new sheriff in town, and he inherited a team coming off back-to-back Section 3 titles — and with some gifted players set to return, like two-way line stud Devin Atkinson, playmakers Tony Cruz and Nevin Roman and specialist Daniel Mueller. Maiorino must pick a starting QB — Mason McClair and Will Cranford are the candidates — and then prep his squad for this tough-as-nails section race.
6. Garden Spot: The Spartans desperately want to snap this maddening 24-game losing skid, and this should/could be the year they do it. There’s too much talent — and motivation — in New Holland for this to go on much longer, especially if dual-threat QB Jesse Martin and RB John Dykie are making plays.
1. Elco: Back-to-back playoff trips for the Raiders, and with all-state QB-DB Braden Bohannon back to pilot the offense and spearhead the defense, we simply had to place the favorite’s tag on Elco. The Raiders haven’t pocketed a section crown since 2000; the time is now for Elco to end that drought.
2. Octorara: Call this a gut-hunch pick, especially with the Braves breaking in a new QB — it looks like Weston Stoltzfus is the clubhouse leader to earn the job — and with skipper Jed King tinkering with the offensive and defensive schemes over the offseason. But there are a lot of nice pieces due back in Atglen, and after two full seasons in the league now, Octorara is ready to step up and challenge.
3. Columbia: So many playmakers due back for the Crimson Tide, and that’s certainly a superb start. Tack on 10 defensive starters coming back — plus some polished trench kids up front — and coach Bud Kyle has to be feeling good about his group. If newbie QB Robert Footman can be a good game manager and get the ball out quickly, watch out for Columbia.
4. Annville-Cleona: Coach Matt Gingrich saw a good chunk of his team pick up their diplomas last spring, but there is still a good vibe in Little Dutchmen territory after A-C won a playoff game for the first time in program history last fall. Plenty of new starters across the board — including the QB spot — but there are some solid ball-hawkers and two-way playmaker kids here. A new look, yes, but don’t count this crew out.
5. Pequea Valley: Priority No. 1 for the Braves is snapping this agonizing 20-game losing skid, and the pieces are here to make that happen. Having holdover QB Nate Fisher back to pilot the troops is a good start, and skipper Jeff Werner is happy with his trench kids up front and a squadron of skill kids on the flanks. It’s time for PV to make a move.
6. Northern Lebanon: The good news for the Vikings is that they should be strong up front, with multiple vets due back along the line of scrimmage. But Northern Lebanon must replace all of its skill kids, with first-time starters stepping in at QB, in the backfield, and at all of the receiver spots. That’s a lot of holes to plug.