It was a potential bounce-back night for both the Elizabethtown Area High School football team and Section Two rival Manheim Central on Friday, Sept. 20, as both sides were looking to rebound following back-to-back losses during the previous weeks. One succeeded in style. The other has to go back to the drawing board.
The Barons went on the road and scored a whopping seven touchdowns en route to a 54-6 victory over the Bears, who were stagnant on offense as they alternated at quarterback between sophomore Pat Gilhool, who didn’t start as he was recovering from a concussion sustained a couple of weeks ago, and freshman backup Josh Rudy.
“Pat didn’t get cleared until late in the week, and Josh had all the reps in practice,” head coach Andy Breault said. “Josh is smart; he does the right things out there. Pat is too, but I didn’t want him to go out there and take big hits. Josh took a couple of those tonight. We just have to clean up those missed assignments.”
Manheim Central got things going on its first drive thanks to a scramble from senior QB and Rutgers commit Evan Simon, who then found senior wideout Colby Wagner for a series of passes, culminating in a 14-yard touchdown pass to give the Barons an early lead.
Elizabethtown quickly had to punt away on the first series following a double-team sack from Barons seniors Troy Kolk and Tyler Hartl, followed by a blown-up draw play and a dropped screen pass. Manheim Central quickly went to work; Colby Wagner pulled down a 36-yard bomb from Simon, setting up senior running back Jake Harbach for a 1-yard TD run on the next play.
The Bears tried to kickstart their offense with a run from senior Leon Allen and a tough catch at the markers from sophomore tight end Brandonn Frey. But Allen got stripped on the following play for a fumble, which was scooped up by Hartl to give the Barons possession in Elizabethtown territory.
A Simon scramble and a pass to Colby Wagner put Manheim Central in the red zone from there. However, a couple of penalties set the Barons back big time, and a fourth-and-27 attempt was stopped well short of the markers, giving the ball back to Elizabethtown. That wouldn’t last; a blown-up jet sweep led to a three-and-out on the next series.
Senior Cole Lastinger pulled down a third-down pass from Simon to keep the drive alive. Harbach then converted a fourth-and-short try to set up a 10-yard jet sweep TD for Colby Wagner. Junior Bobby Walters blocked the point-after try, however, and the score stayed at 20-0.
Allen caught a swing pass from Rudy for 11 yards on the first play of Elizabethtown’s ensuing series. However, he was then stuffed on a fourth-and-short try at midfield by Simon, turning the ball over on downs. Seniors JD Grube and Ben Wagner had a pair of catches to put the Barons in the red zone, but the Bears held firm, resulting in a 29-yard field goal from junior Logan Shull to give Manheim Central a 23-0 advantage.
The first play of the next drive was disastrous for the Bears. A deep Rudy pass was intercepted by Ben Wagner and returned 39 yards to the Elizabethtown 16. However, senior Cole Hitz came up with a big response two plays later, picking off Simon and taking the ball 63 yards to the Manheim Central 15.
Rudy was sacked by senior Chris Pagano on the first play of the next drive, but the young QB recovered by launching a 26-yard pass to Frey, who pulled down a tough catch to set up Allen for a 1-yard TD run. A botched snap on the point-after try kept the score at 23-6.
Colby Wagner took over on the following series. He made catches of 29, 14, 18 and 18 yards, leading to a sneak from 2 yards out from Simon. Allen briefly put the Bears in Barons territory off a 25-yard screen pass, but back-to-back sacks from Hartl and sophomore Tyler Fahnestock erased that, leading to a punt. Harbach would then take a screen pass of his own 56 yards to the house, putting Manheim Central up 37-6, a score that carried into halftime after Elizabethtown elected to run out the remainder of the clock.
Gilhool returned to take the snaps at the start of the second half for the Bears. They moved into Barons territory thanks to penalties from a late hit and a horsecollar tackle, but Ben Wagner snatched his second INT of the night off a deep throw to give possession back to Manheim Central.
A 15-yard pass to Lastinger got the Barons moving, followed by a third-down conversion from Harbach and a Simon keeper that set them up inside the Elizabethtown 5-yard line. Harbach scored for the third time to cap off the drive, this time on a 2-yard run.
Elizabethtown would go three and out afterward, with Colby Wagner again making an impact, albeit on special teams with a 24-yard punt return to start the Barons at the Bears 38. Manheim Central elected to put in its reserves at this point with a running clock, and some runs from sophomore backup QB Judd Novak were enough to move into field goal range for Shull, who nailed a 36-yard kick to make it 47-6 late in the third.
Gilhool completed a pair of passes to Frey and senior Cole Rice, moving the ball to midfield for the Bears. But a block in the back penalty set the offense back, and a failed screen plus a fourth-down scramble from Gilhool left them well short of a first on fourth-and-long.
Novak took over for the Barons backups, completing a third-down pass to junior Westley Borden and converting on a fourth-down run as well. He ended the drive by taking a keeper 17 yards for a score. Elizabethtown would go three-and-out again after three runs from sophomore Riley Drager, and Manheim Central kneeled out the remaining time on the clock.
Simon and Colby Wagner could not be stopped; the duo hooked up 16 times for 232 yards and a TD, tying a Lancaster-Lebanon League record. Simon went 25 for 34 through the air, accumulating 357 yards in all, along with 2 TDs and an INT. He also rushed for 74 yards and a score on 16 carries, a game high. Wagner added a TD on the ground as well.
“They’re both veterans who’ve been around in this system,” Breault said. “Simon was on the money tonight. They’ve played some tough competition so far, but they’re tough to stop. And Wagner’s just a good receiver. We stepped in front of one pass on that Cole Hitz pick, but it’s tough when you get a quarterback and a receiver on the same page like that.”
Grube (4 catches, 42 yards) and Lastinger (4 catches, 27 yards) chipped in receiving wise, while Harbach had 89 yards from scrimmage overall to go with his 3 TDs. Most importantly, Manheim Central kept Simon protected, yielding no sacks. In comparison, Elizabethtown allowed four sacks on Rudy in the first half.
“They protected well up front,” Breault said. “There were some holding penalties that went away after the first quarter, but the refs aren’t gonna see everything. My hats off to them. They were throwing a lot of stuff short before we could get to Simon.”
Rudy had 87 yards on 6 for 11 passing in the opening two quarters, while Gilhool went 6 for 12 and 41 yards in the second half. Both threw an interception. Allen (10 carries, 8 yards) was bottled up on the ground, though he did manage a TD and added 36 receiving yards on a pair of catches. Frey (4 catches, 55 yards) led the team in receiving yards, while Rice (6 catches, 37 yards) led the team in receptions.
“I think the level of competition went up after Donegal and Dover,” Breault said. “We played pretty good football against those two. We just have to make plays that are presented to us. Someone needs to step up and be that player. We tried some max protection stuff, but we’re still not breaking free in the secondary. We’ll work on some stuff and maybe change up the routes a little bit to see what happens.”
Hitz led all players with 12 total tackles in addition to his interception. Drager added 10 for the Bears as well. Pagano had a team-high 11 tackles for Manheim Central, while Ben Wagner had a pair of INTs.
With their record now at 2-3 for the season, the Bears will stay home on Friday, Sept. 27, for another section game against Solanco. The Mules have gotten off to a surprisingly good start this season, winning three of their first four games in spite of heavy graduation losses. Their rushing attack is especially deadly; senior fullback Nick Yannutz is already at 744 yards on the ground through five games, tops in Section Two and second in the L-L League.
“We got to keep them in front of us,” Breault said. “They like to run the ball, so we have to shut that down and make them throw. Maybe put more guys in the box. We just got to come and play football. When we watch film, there’s gonna be a lot of positives, even though the score doesn’t show it. We just have to build off of those and have more consecutive good plays, instead of a couple good and a couple bad.”