In its previous game, the Elizabethtown Area High School had to mount a dramatic comeback to escape with a 45-44 win at Solanco on Friday, Sept. 28. This time around, however, it wasn’t nearly as cinematic.
The Bears dominated in their return home to Thompson Field, throttling Garden Spot 65-28 on Friday, Oct. 5. They showed out in nearly every facet of the game, and the victory was made all the more sweeter considering that it came during the team’s Senior Night.
“It means a lot,” head coach Andy Breault said. “We talked about it a lot before the game. The younger guys stepped up and played their hearts out for these guys. Most of them have been here for three years. I think we played a good four quarters all around on offense, defense and special teams tonight, and it shows with the score.”
After a Garden Spot three-and-out to begin the game, Elizabethtown started in good field position at the Spartans 48-yard line. It only took five snaps for the Bears to score, aided by a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone. Senior Cole Patrick threw a 13-yard shovel pass to fellow senior Cole Livingston to put them up just under three minutes into the game.
All three units teamed up to set up the next score. The Bears defense forced a three-and-out, which was quickly followed by a blocked punt from senior Tyler Lanza. The offense then used some trickery to get into the end zone; Patrick threw a backward pass to senior Dylan Sweger, who immediately connected with senior Alex Diahn for an 11-yard touchdown.
Elizabethtown’s defense forced a third straight three-and-out. Four plays later, Patrick found Livingston wide open in the middle of the field for a 52-yard TD. Garden Spot went three-and-out again on the next series and decided to go for it on fourth-and-short. The Spartans’ gamble paid off, as backup senior QB Zebulon Fisher, starting in place of sophomore Jesse Martin, took a QB option 64 yards to the house. Livingston intercepted a 2-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 21-6.
The Bears briefly got into Spartans territory on the following drive with the help of a roughing the passer penalty, but they were hit with a flag of their own on a block in the back call during a Diahn reverse that went for a TD. Patrick was then sacked on third and long. Before Elizabethtown could punt the ball away to start the second quarter, a low snap to senior punter Collin Hudak resulted in a turnover on downs that put the Spartans in plus territory.
However, the Bears responded by forcing a turnover of their own. Senior Cole Rice jarred the ball loose on a Garden Spot run for a fumble, which was recovered by Livingston. The latter was rewarded with a 42-yard TD on a screen pass from Patrick to put his team up 28-6.
Garden Spot finally converted a first down on the ensuing series. However, the Spartans were stymied by sophomore Luke Pierson. He first intercepted a Fisher pass and returned it to the Garden Spot 39, then immediately took a 39-yard pass from Patrick to paydirt on the next play.
The Spartans finally started moving the ball on their next series, which ended with Fisher hooking up with sophomore John Dykie for a 40-yard TD pass. However, they tried a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, which utterly backfired, as Rice returned it 78 yards for a score.
With less than two minutes to go in the first half, Fisher connected with senior Zackary Ringer for 25 yards to start the following drive, then scrambled for another 11 yards. However, he then fired a pass right to Sweger for an INT. Livingston then scored on another screen pass from Patrick, this time from 58 yards out. The Bears would go to halftime up 49-12.
Elizabethtown scored quickly to start the second half. On the third play of the drive, Patrick made some defenders miss and ran 43 yards on an option play for a score. The point-after try from sophomore Cade Denlinger went wide left, keeping things at 55-12.
A mishandled kick return put the Spartans deep in their own territory, though Fisher got them out of danger with an option run. However, the Bears defense held, forcing a punt that Pierson returned to the Garden Spot 28-yard line. They didn’t get far on offense, so Denlinger hit a 31-yard field goal, his first of the season, to make the score 58-12.
Garden Spot went three and out, punting away to start the fourth. Once again, it took Elizabethtown one play to score, as senior running back Zach Frank ran 49 yards for a TD. The Bears put much of their backup defense in on the next series, which Garden Spot took advantage of. Fisher ran 64 yards for a TD and also got a 2-point try to put the score at 65-20.
Elizabethtown’s backup offense drove into Garden Spot territory but turned the ball over on downs. Dykie got the Spartans onto the Bears’ side of the field with a long run, and Fisher finished off the drive with another option run for a score from 23 yards out with just over a minute to go. Dykie then scored on the 2-point conversion. The starters then came back in for Elizabethtown on offense to kneel out the clock for the victory.
After his late-game heroics against Solanco, Livingston once again was the high man for Elizabethtown on offense, scoring on each of his first 4 receptions. He ultimately finished with 5 catches for 170 yards and the aforementioned scores.
Patrick was extremely tight through the air, throwing for 250 yards and 5 TDs on 10 for 12 passing. He also added 65 yards and another score on 4 carries. Frank led the team in rushing with 78 yards and a TD on 7 carries. Diahn (3 catches, 30 yards) and Pierson (2 catches, 45 yards) added TDs as well.
“Things went well tonight,” Breault said. “Had some big plays. Threw some shorter passes and were able to get some blocks out in front.”
The Bears defense had its best outing of the year, with the special teams unit also contributing in a big way. Lanza had a team-high 19 tackles, as well as a blocked punt. Livingston made an impact too, breaking up a pass, recovering a fumble and getting an INT on a 2-point conversion. Rice forced said fumble in addition to 8 tackles, a pass breakup and a kick return score. Pierson chipped in with 5 tackles and an INT; his punt returns also put Elizabethtown in favorable field position a number of times.
“The field position meant a lot,” Breault said. “Even when we stalled out, we were right there for a chance at a field goal. It’s nice to take some time off the clock, but the defense was playing well, so it worked out. They’re starting to be where they need to be when they need to be there. The linebackers are really picking it up. We’re rotating those defensive linemen in there to keep them fresh, and they’re doing a good job.”
Fisher’s long TD runs provided the bulk of the offense for Garden Spot. He finished with 199 rushing yards and 2 scores on 19 carries, as well as 80 passing yards, a TD and 2 INTs on 5 for 11 passing. Dykie was the other main contributor, carrying the ball 24 times for 66 yards and catching 2 passes for 44 yards and a TD.
With their record boosted to 4-3, the Bears will stay at home on Friday, Oct. 12, for a crossover game with Penn Manor, who is just 1-6 on the season. Every game counts though, especially in the midst of fighting to clinch a berth in districts. Breault has credited a team-wide demeanor adjustment in practice as a potential catalyst for success down the road.
“The last two weeks, practices have been pretty upbeat, and the kids are buying into it,” he said. “It’s fun when they’re enthusiastic, and it’s showing out here. They’re playing 100 percent with what we need to do. I think the attitude change at practice has led to an attitude change on the field. I know (Penn Manor) is gonna bring their best effort over here, so we got to have our best game.”