It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a team to overlook a seemingly lightweight opponent ahead of a stretch of important games. The Elizabethtown Area High School football team was faced with that potential trap in a home game at Thompson Field against Penn Manor on Friday, Oct. 12, the third-to-last game of the regular season before two final games against Section Two opponents.
Early on, the Comets gave the Bears a run for their money, leading 10-7 after the first quarter. However, Elizabethtown came to life afterward, eventually prevailing 52-17 on homecoming night to boost its record to 5-3 on the season. The Bears shut Penn Manor out after halftime, making plays across all three units (offense, defense and special teams) to help clear the hurdle.
“We didn’t really come out fighting,” head coach Andy Breault said. “We had some defensive players in new positions this week. Until they got the hang of seeing things full speed, it took a little bit. In practices, we’re making a point that we have to play all three phases. The kids are buying in, and the kids that are on those special teams units come out and do their job. They get on (the field) and try their best.”
Penn Manor was able to drive deep into Elizabethtown territory on its first drive due to some long runs from sophomore running back Isaiah Stoltzfus and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Bears defense. Junior quarterback Aaron Gale completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to fellow junior Logan Legenstein, but it was reversed due to a Comets holding call. A few plays later, Gale was able to get a TD that counted on a 13-yard pass to junior Josh Gibson.
Elizabethtown moved the ball well at first on the next drive, via passes to senior Alex Diahn and junior Cole Rice, but stalled out and had to punt away. Penn Manor immediately went three-and-out, with the punt getting blocked by sophomore Gavin Gray. Senior quarterback Cole Patrick threw a 16-yard TD to Diahn on the next play to tie the game at 7-7.
Gale went deep to Gibson for 54 yards on the first play of Penn Manor’s ensuing drive. The Bears defense held for three straight plays, however, holding the Comets to a 28-yard field goal from senior Liam Hart, putting the Comets up 10-7 near the close of the first quarter.
The Bears had to convert multiple third-down tries on the following series, all to senior Dylan Sweger. It paid off, finishing in an 8-yard end-around score for senior Cole Livingston. The Comets answered quickly; Gale found senior Stephen Albright on a slant route for a 74-yard TD, giving them a 17-14 lead.
Patrick had to convert more third-down passes afterward, hooking up with Livingston for gains for 17 and 47. Senior running back Zach Frank capped the drive off by taking a jet sweep 9 yards into the end zone to give the Bears the lead back.
The Comets converted a couple of first downs, but their drive ended when Gale tossed an interception to Bears junior Elijah Eberly, who returned the ball to the Penn Manor 14. Frank would score on another 9-yard TD run to increase the lead to 28-17. Elizabethtown’s defense held firm again on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out. A sack from junior Leon Allen on the next drive forced Penn Manor to go the half down 35-17.
Elizabethtown began the second half with a 22-yard swing pass to Frank, though the drive stalled soon after, leading to a punt. Penn Manor didn’t last long on its next drive, however; Livingston picked off a Gale pass and returned the ball 64 yards for a Bears TD.
The two teams traded punts on the following four possessions. Elizabethtown’s snap on the second punt went over senior punter Collin Hudak’s head, but he was able to get the kick away with no complications. Penn Manor went for it on 4th and 5 near the end of the third but a Stoltzfus run was stifled by Gray. Patrick then connected with Diahn for 30 yards to set up a 15-yard TD pass to Livingston just before the end of the quarter.
Another three-and-out came for Penn Manor at the start of the fourth. Pressure from sophomore Jett Kelly caused senior Comets punter Zach Banta to kick the ball straight up, giving Elizabethtown nice field position. A holding call briefly set the Bears back, though sophomore kicker Cade Denlinger nailed a 23-yard field goal to put the score at 52-17 and enact the mercy rule to keep the clock running. After a Penn Manor turnover on downs, freshman backup QB Pat Gilhool threw a pass that was intercepted by Comets senior Ryan Mahoney, though the offense was unable to score before the end of the game.
Livingston had another huge night for Elizabethtown, leading the team in receiving with 5 catches for 110 yards and a TD. He also scored on the ground and took an interception back for a TD as well. He’s now up to 16 total TDs in seven games this season.
“He’s a player,” Breault said. “I’m glad he’s on our team and not anyone else’s. He can do everything. He’s a three-year starter at corner. He’s thinking all the time on the field and can make adjustments on the fly. Some of the routes he ran weren’t actually called, but he broke off to the opening. He’s really reading things well.”
Elsewhere, Patrick crossed the 2,000-yard passing mark for the year, throwing for 350 yards and 3 TDs on 19 for 32 passing. Sweger went over the century mark in receiving, catching 5 passes for 102 yards and a score. Diahn had 4 catches for 76 yards and a TD, while Frank rushed 11 times for 71 yards and a TD, also catching 3 passes for 39 yards.
“Things were rolling,” Breault said. “We had some guys get behind them in man coverage, and guys made plays. Patrick was on the money again. He’s starting to relax and take what they’re giving him, instead of forcing things. If we have protection, we can do some damage, so it all starts with those seven guys we have rotating in. That makes a big difference.”
On defense, junior Adnan Traore led the way with 9 total tackles. Seniors Brandon Fotibu and Tyler Lanza weren’t far behind with 8 and 7 stops, respectively. Livingston and Eberly each had an interception as well. Six different players had pass breakups for the Bears, with Diahn and Lanza getting 2 each.
Gale was mixed through the air for Penn Manor, finishing with 177 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs on 6 for 12 passing. The bulk of those yards went to Albright (4 catches, 110 yards, TD) and Gibson (3 catches, 76 yards, TD). Stoltzfus ran 15 times for 74 yards.
In the thick of the District 3 playoff race, Elizabethtown will have a key matchup at Lampeter-Strasburg on Friday, Oct. 19. The Pioneers were just blown out by undefeated Manheim Central, so they’ll be looking to bounce back in a big way against the Bears and get their own security for districts as well.
“I’ve seen them on film a little bit so far,” Breault said. “It’s gonna be a challenge. Coach (John) Manion is gonna have those guys ready to play. They always have a boatload of athletes down there, and they do a lot of stuff on offense. We got to clean some things up in the secondary, or we’re gonna be in trouble.”