When your main form of attack on offense in football is through the passing game, poor weather conditions are the last thing you want to deal with. Unfortunately for the Elizabethtown Area High School football team, it came at the worst possible time.
Amidst a virtual monsoon, Elizabethtown fell to Governor Mifflin 30-0 at home in the first round of the Class 5A District 3 playoffs on Friday, Nov. 2. The No. 9 seeded Mustangs are now set to go on the road again to play top-seeded Manheim Central on Friday, Nov. 9. Meanwhile, in spite of a terrific season, the Bears’ year is over.
“It is kind of a disappointment,” head coach Andy Breault said. “For all the hard work they put in in the offseason and throughout the season (at) practice every day, it’s tough for the seniors to see it end like this when we couldn’t really showcase what we could do on the football field.”
Elizabethtown went three and out to start the game, hampered by the heavy rain. Governor Mifflin utilized the triple option nicely on the following drive, cumulating in a 40-yard score off a pitch for senior Bryce Stubler on a fourth down try. The extra-point kick was blocked to keep the score at 6-0.
Despite good field position thanks to a nice kick return by senior Cole Livingston, the Bears were stopped short on a fourth-down attempt of their own on the ensuing series. The Mustangs then scored on another fourth-and-short, this time on a 28-yard quarterback keeper by junior Kolbie Reeser. Senior Connor Naugle added a two-point conversion to increase the lead to 14-0 late in the quarter.
The Bears had another three and out, punting away to start the second. Governor Mifflin drove into Elizabethtown territory on its next drive, but that was suddenly halted after Bears senior Zach Frank forced and recovered a fumble. Elizabethtown’s offense briefly came to life after senior QB Cole Patrick found sophomore Luke Pierson for 22 yards. However, the Bears stalled afterward, and Patrick was sacked on an all-out blitz to turn the ball over on downs.
Governor Mifflin turned the ball over immediately on another fumble that was recovered by Bears senior Tyler Lanza. Elizabethtown got hit with an offensive pass interference penalty on the next play to set the offense back, however, and Patrick was later intercepted on a deep pass by senior Jacob Gelvin on a third and long attempt.
The Mustangs moved the ball into Bears territory but ended up having to punt away, pinning Elizabethtown at its own 5-yard line, leading to another three and out. The Mustangs converted a fourth and short try via a QB sneak and got the ball into the red zone thanks to a defensive pass interference on Elizabethtown. However, junior Elijah Eberly blew up a screen pass on third down, and Livingston broke up an end zone shot on fourth down to give the Bears the ball back, though they ran out the clock to go to halftime.
“It was definitely a confidence booster for us (in) being able to keep them out of the end zone,” Breault said. “The kids were upbeat at halftime, so I knew they were gonna come out and fight in the second half.”
The Mustangs offense looked sharp at the start of the second half, converting another fourth and short on the way to a 1-yard TD for freshman Nick Singleton. Reeser found Gelvin on a two-pointer to make it 22-0. The Bears turned the ball over on downs on the following series after a Patrick pass to Pierson was stopped short of the makers.
Governor Mifflin had the ball just outside the Elizabethtown end zone late in the third, but a fumbled snap on a fourth and short try was recovered by Lanza. The Bears ended up turning the ball over on downs after another Patrick pass to Pierson was stopped shy of the markers.
Early in the fourth, Reeser got his second TD of the night from 25 yards out on a fourth and 7 attempt. Singleton scored on a two-pointer to make it 30-0. Livingston gave the Bears good starting field position by returning a squib kick to the Governor Mifflin 36, though the offense didn’t move the ball far and turned it over on downs.
The Mustangs stalled out at midfield and turned the ball over on downs. The Bears did manage to convert a fourth and short try thanks to a run from junior Leon Allen but turned the ball over on a fumbled exchange between Patrick and Livingston on a jet sweep. Governor Mifflin kneeled out the clock for the win from there.
Patrick, the leader in nearly every passing stat for the Lancaster-Lebanon League during the regular season, was unable to kick-start the air assault for the Bears, finishing with just 40 yards and an INT on 7 for 18 passing. Five of those completions and 36 of the yards went to Pierson. Allen, who had not had a carry in the previous 10 games, ended up as the rushing leading with 23 yards on 8 carries. Frank had 9 rushes for 18 yards.
Governor Mifflin relied on the ground game early and often. Singleton led all players with 106 yards and a score on 25 carries. Reeser didn’t do much through the air (5 for 11, 14 yards), but he did have 89 yards and 2 TDs on 17 carries. Stubler added 47 yards and a TD on 4 rushes.
“We were trying to get a new ball in almost every play,” Breault said. “They still had to play in the same conditions we had to play in. Passing’s just our thing. We kind of rely on it, so that hurt our offense. They’re a pretty balanced attack. Defensively, we did get some turnovers, and that helped. We had our chances on offense and couldn’t get going.”
On defense, Lanza led the way for Elizabethtown with 12 total tackles and 2 fumble recoveries. Junior Adnan Traore also went over the double-digit mark, finishing with 11 tackles. Eberly notched 7 tackles, as did fellow juniors Cole Rice and Joe Sikora. Sophomore Gavin Gray added 6, while Frank had 4 along with a forced fumble. Livingston ended the game with 2 pass breakups as well.
It’s most certainly a buzzkiller to end the year for the Bears, who snapped a 10-year playoff drought and put up some eye-popping numbers on offense. Much of that was off the back of Patrick, who was stout at QB. Livingston was a scoring monster, finishing with 19 total TDs (11 receiving, 6 rushing and 2 interception returns), while seniors Alex Diahn and Dylan Sweger served as reliable targets. Lanza was a tackling machine as well, getting a team-high 147. They and the rest of the 14 graduating players (Frank, Brandon Fotibu, Jonathan Heisey, Collin Hudak, Amos Kollie, Zach Kreider, Hunter Murry, Zach Scurlock and Elijah Stackhouse) will be dearly missed.
“Being a first-year coach, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of seniors,” Breault said. “I knew it was a good group being here with them the last three years. They came out and played this year like I knew they could. It was just a fun group to be around all season. I always looked forward to going to practice with these guys. If there was ever a time where I dreaded going, I always was upbeat ‘cause I knew I was gonna have a good time watching these guys play and get better throughout the season and through the offseason.”
On the flip side, Elizabethtown had major contributions across the board from its underclassmen. Pierson finished second in both receiving and interceptions behind Livingston. Traore and Rice were second and third, respectively, in tackles behind Lanza. Many of the regular rotation players on defense (Gray, Eberly, Allen, Sikora, junior Jacques Mortha, sophomore Jett Kelly, junior Cole Hitz, junior Tristan Mabee and sophomore Billy McNitt) were sophomores and juniors. That should give the Bears a great foundation to build from in 2019.
“It was nice to watch the younger guys grow this season. They finally got on the field more. Adnan and Cole Rice both started on defense last year, and Gavin has really come around. He’s been able to read the offensive blocks real well this year. And Luke’s one of a kind. He’s football smart. We use him on offense in a lot of different ways. He has to learn more than everyone else. He’s a heck of a player and a fun guy to coach.”
It’ll be a long eight months before the team gets back into football mode, and the Bears will have plenty to mull over until then. Regardless, they have much to be proud of, and if all goes according to plan, the future looks bright for Elizabethtown. With the winter sports season not far away and spring sports only a few months out as well, Breault and his staff should have a hungry and ready squad to work with come June.
“I try to promote them to play other sports,” he said. “They’re gonna be in shape no matter what they’re doing, so they’re not getting isolated to just one sport. As long as they’re competing, whether it’s basketball, track, baseball or lacrosse, I’m fine with it. When they show up in the summertime and we start working out, we’re good to go.”