2014 High School Football Preview

 

BATTLE ROYALE


Lancaster-Lebanon League

The shifting of teams from one section to another, caused by enrollment and petition, has seemingly loaded Section Two with top-flight matchups. Rivalries will be continued and started anew this season.

By Ed Gruver


It was Solanco athletic director Dan Baughman who, in an interview with Lancaster Newspapers last March to announce the hiring of Anthony Cox as new head football coach, first applied the moniker "Murderers’ Row" to the new-look lineup of Section Two.

 

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The sobriquet has since gained traction. Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich used it on L-L Media Day and the belief that football fans are in for something special this fall has become a common theme among coaches and players.

 

"You take the best team (Garden Spot) in Section Three and one of the best (Lancaster Catholic) in Section One, that's kind of scary," Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk said.

 

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Scary good. The Spartans are 18-4 over the past two seasons, won a section title two years ago and in 2013 owned the section's best overall record at 8-3. The Crusaders, who dominated Section Three before bumping up to Section One, have won two state titles and are a perennial playoff squad.

 

Add Catholic and Garden Spot to an already ultra competitive field that includes four playoff teams from a year ago in district Class AAA finalist and Section Two champ Manheim Central, Triple-A semifinalist Cocalico, recent section champ Lampeter-Strasburg and Lebanon and it's easy to see why Crusaders head man Bruce Harbach says Section Two ranks as "one of the top sections in the state."

 

Garden Spot High School's Mitch Martin (Photo: Andy Blackburn)

Garden Spot High School's Mitch Martin (Photo: Andy Blackburn)

 

"It's what Friday night football is all about," added Elizabethtown coach Mike Cottle, whose Bears bring their own tradition to the mix.

 

It was the E-town teams of the late Eighties and early Nineties that slugged it out with Central and Conestoga Valley for section and district titles that evoke such fond memories and comparisons for retiring Barons boss Mike Williams.

 

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"Those years when we had E-town, CV and us all competing at the district (playoff) level were really competitive," he said. "But I don't know if we had five teams as competitive (as the current Section Two). We're getting two teams (Catholic and Garden Spot) that are pretty solid."

 

And the section is getting two men -- Jim Cantafio and Gerry Novak, Catholic's new offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively -- who as former CV head coaches bring additional name recognition and give the Crusaders an all-star staff along the lines of Central's.

 

"It's like having three head coaches," Crusaders running back/cornerback/return specialist Nassir Weaver said, smiling.

 

Catholic and Central had a short-lived two-season throwdown several years ago, and Williams said that despite its brevity it was a "great rivalry."

 

"It might be as good," he mused, "as the ones we had in the past with CV and E-town."

 

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And while Williams knows the Barons, as reigning kings, will bear the target this season - "Everybody's going to want to beat us" - he expects the Crusaders are going to be circled on every team's calendar as well.

 

"Everybody's going to have a rivalry with Lancaster Catholic," he said. "(Private schools versus public schools) is the hot topic right now."

 

Chad Zunich of Manheim Central (Photo: Dan Marschka)

Chad Zunich of Manheim Central (Photo: Dan Marschka)

 

Consider it another chapter in a story that looks to be a real page-turner.

 

"I've always felt that Section Two is the most competitive in the league," Gingrich opined. "But this year takes it to a whole new level. Add Garden Spot and Lancaster Catholic, a two-time state champion, add Cantafio and Novak, holy (smoke)."

 

"Mentally, it's going to be a challenge for coaches to prepare their squad every week," Yonchiuk stated. "I don't think anyone wants to set any team up as their Homecoming opponent."

The players who will take the field are expecting nothing less than a playoff atmosphere every Friday night for the next three months.

 

"It's become more competitive with Catholic and Garden Spot coming in," Eagles wide receiver/cornerback Devon Delpiano said. "The games are going to be more physical, more demolition derby."

 

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All of which suits Barons linebacker Justin Moreno, who at 6-0, 238 pounds hits as hard as Monday morning.

 

"I'm ready for some competition," Moreno said. "Blowout games are kind of boring."

 

Lancaster Catholic's Skylar Bender (Photo: Andy Blackburn)

Lancaster Catholic's Skylar Bender (Photo: Andy Blackburn)

 

Catholic's two-way lineman Keegan Sheedy expects Section Two to be as demanding as Section One was, maybe more so.

 

"It's not a step down," he said. "It's a step up."

 

Spartan RB/LB Tim Stoltzfus shares Sheedy's belief.

 

"I'm super excited for (competing in Section Two); bigger games, higher intensity."

And it's that intensity that inspired Bears two-way lineman Zack Semple and his teammates to go the extra mile in the offseason.

 

"We took that mindset into the weight room," he said, "and worked harder."

 

All that's left now is to run this gauntlet of games.

 

"No question, it's going to be a 10-week grind," Spartans coach Matt Zamperini said. "The idea of being in a battle on Friday night and getting back in the mix on Monday is something we haven't had in a while. You stand up and compete or you get your butt kicked."

 

Gingrich agreed. "When you look at the schedule, it's a daunting task. There's going to be a good team with a sub .500 record.

 

"I'll tell you what. Whoever wins Section Two is going to be a great team."