Sometimes a game can come down to just a handful of plays.
It boiled down to two for Elizabethtown in its home opener vs. Conrad Weiser on Friday, Sept. 6 — a 24-yard pick-six on the second play of the third quarter by Scouts junior Hunter Eberhardt, and an injury to sophomore quarterback Pat Gilhool a couple of drives later.
As a result, a 9-0 Bears halftime lead was erased, and Conrad Weiser picked up its first victory of the season by a score of 30-9. It was Elizabethtown’s first defeat of the year as well.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” head coach Andy Breault said. “You come out here light against an 0-2 team who lost to two good teams in Cocalico and Fleetwood, and they’re gonna run the ball right at you. It’s tough. Hopefully, we’ll get back at it next week and see what we can do.”
The Scouts offense moved the ball well on the first drive of the game, pushing into the Bears’ red zone thanks to some scrambles from sophomore QB Logan Klitsch. However, they caught the penalty bug afterward, committing two holds and a block in the back, which took them out of scoring range and forced a punt.
Elizabethtown didn’t move the ball far on its opening series before punting away too. Conrad Weiser advanced to midfield after taking over, but a third-down pass breakup by Bears junior Riley Drager on a deep ball halted that progress. Senior punter Matt Noll had a gorgeous kick that was downed at the Bears 4-yard line.
As the second quarter began, a pass interference penalty on a deep ball to senior Cole Hitz got Elizabethtown out of danger shortly into the next drive. Hitz would secure another long pass for what was initially a big gain, but that was wiped out by a holding penalty.
It didn’t end up mattering; Gilhool connected with Rice, who made a circus catch for 56 yards and a first. A few plays later, Hitz made a toe-tapping grab to come down in bounds and score on a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears the lead. Their defense would force Conrad Weiser to go three-and-out as well.
Hitz had another third-down catch taken away following offsetting holding and roughing the passer penalties. Gilhool was then sacked on the replay, leading to a punt. The Scouts didn’t move the ball far after getting it back, and when they went to punt for the fourth straight series, disaster struck. The snap went over Noll’s head into their own end zone; he elected to kick the ball out of the back for a safety, putting the Bears up 9-0 and giving them possession to boot.
Drager returned the free-kick to midfield to set Elizabethtown up nicely late in the first half, though a sack put the Bears in a hole right away. Gilhool connected with Rice for 11 yards on second down, then Hitz for 10 yards on fourth-and-short to put them on the outskirts of field goal range. But a delay of game penalty and an intentional grounding call on Gilhool snuffed out that opportunity and the clock ran out in the first half.
Right as the second half began, the Scouts made their move, courtesy of Eberhardt’s interception; he leaped at a Gilhool pass right at the line of scrimmage and snatched the ball out of the air, going untouched for a 24-yard pick-six. That shifted control firmly to Conrad Weiser’s hands.
“It hurt,” Breault said. “They’re an 0-2 team that you don’t want to give any momentum to. It was definitely a factor in the outcome of the game. It lifted them up; they took the lead right after that and we just couldn’t come back.”
Following an Elizabethtown punt, Scouts senior running back Owen Dautrich went to work. He had been held to just 5 yards on the ground in the first half but was reinvigorated after the break, taking six straight carries for 59 yards on the next Conrad Weiser series, ending in a go-ahead 10-yard TD run. Dautrich was stopped short of the goal line on a two-point try, but the Scouts had grabbed a 13-9 lead just five minutes into the third quarter.
The Bears stalled after a sack and an overthrow to Hitz on third down. The latter was the play where Gilhool was injured. He was evaluated for a concussion after his head made hard contact with the ground off a hit from a Conrad Weiser defender. Elizabethtown had to punt away again while also getting freshman backup Josh Rudy ready to enter the game.
Klitsch scrambled into Bears territory on the ensuing drive, and when the Scouts were faced with a fourth-and-medium situation just outside of field goal range, they pulled out the big guns with a fake-punt run from Noll to pick up a first. Bears junior Elijah Reitmeyer came up with a third-down sack, however, and Conrad Weiser settled for a 38-yard Noll field goal to take a 16-9 lead.
Getting the ball back late in the third, Elizabethtown still had a shot to right the ship. Rudy threw three straight incompletions, however, including an overthrow on a deep shot to Rice on third down, leading to another punt. A prime opportunity to regain possession failed when the Scouts managed to recover a Klitsch fumble on the next series. Dautrich made the Bears pay, taking a delayed draw play on third and long 27 yards to the house.
Rudy was victimized by a drop and a sack on the following series, and Elizabethtown went three-and-out once again. Conrad Weiser drained the clock from there, using a 15-yard catch from Dautrich and an 11-yard run from senior CJ Civiello to move into Bears territory, later finishing things off with an 8-yard TD run for Dautrich. Elizabethtown went three and out for the final time afterward; junior punter Cade Denlinger had to fall on a botched snap to prevent any more damage. The Scouts then kneeled the ball twice to end the game.
Once Gilhool had to leave the game, the Bears’ chances of victory seemed to fly out the window. Rudy did his best; he showed off some nice arm strength on a few of his passes, some of which were dropped. But he ultimately went 0-for-5 in relief. If Rudy does have to start in place of Gilhool during the next few games, Breault is hopeful that the offense won’t miss much of a beat.
“He’s been doing well at practice with a limited amount of reps,” he said. “He’s throwing the ball well against our defense during the week.”
Still, not having Gilhool would be a gut punch for Elizabethtown. His final stat line for the night was middling (10 for 21, 119 passing yards, the TD to Hitz and the pick-six), but like Rudy, some of those throws were dropped. Head injuries are tricky, so the Bears will certainly not push him too hard to come back right away. But Gilhool’s absence would be felt.
“We’ll miss his leadership out there,” Breault said. “I think he stays calm and doesn’t get rattled. His playmaking ability is one of the best on the team.”
Rice (5 catches, 73 yards) and Hitz (5 catches, 46 yards, TD) made up all of Gilhool’s passing yardage. Elizabethtown’s rushing attack was very quiet after two solid performances in the first two games of the season. Senior Leon Allen led the way with just 17 yards on 9 carries.
“We were just missing a couple of plays here and there,” Breault said. “We got opportunities to have some big plays, and they were either missed or dropped. They didn’t come into play tonight.”
Conrad Weiser partially has Dautrich to thank for the win. He had a game-high 143 yards on 22 carries, plus the three scores, and led the team in receiving with 22 yards on 3 catches. Klitsch’s passing numbers were meager (7 for 11, 59 yards), but he did pick up 60 yards on the ground.
There were some bright spots for the Bears stop unit. Hitz led all players with 10 total tackles from his safety position. Junior Jett Kelly had 8 tackles, while Rice, Drager and senior Joe Sikora had 7 each. They also got sacks from Reitmeyer (4 tackles) and senior Tristan Mabee (5 tackles, 3 for loss). But the Scouts were able to get into a groove offensively after their defense began shutting Elizabethtown down in the second half, sacking Gilhool and Rudy a combined 5 times.
“I don’t know if we were getting tired on defense,” Breault said. “But the offense wasn’t moving the ball. They (Conrad Weiser) were getting it right back after three-and-outs, so that didn’t help. We got some guys going both ways who were exhausted. It’ll be nice to get them off their feet for the next couple of days.”
Now 2-1 on the season, the Bears will go back on the road to face Cocalico on Friday, Sept. 13. The Eagles are flying high after a 3-0 start and look to be the team to beat in both Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, as well as District 3 as a whole. As a reference, they topped Conrad Weiser 42-15 in the first game of the season. If Elizabethtown wants any chance to win, the first step is slowing down senior QB/safety Noah Palm, a New Hampshire commit who’s scored 14 touchdowns through three weeks of action.
“We have to somehow contain him,” Breault said. “Nobody’s been able to do that yet. He’s just an athlete who can take control of a game by himself. He flys to the ball on defense, and he’s smart. He’s been around for a long time. It’s gonna be a difficult task for us, but we’ll do our best.”