Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

And because it is, sometimes the ugliest of wins can appear downright gorgeous in retrospect.

So while it was often grotesque to look at, Annville-Cleona’s third straight win will draw a loving gaze from the 2023 edition of the Dutchmen whenever their hearts and minds are reminded of one very special Friday night in late September.

Annville-Cleona 41, Kutztown 40. You had to be there.

Annville-Cleona, led by offensive lineman Damien Miller, storm the field. (Will Trostel)

You might be scarred for life, but you definitely had to be there to see A-C somehow pull victory from the jaws of defeat while simultaneously causing the football gods to avert their eyes from the ugliness of it all.

In a contest that featured 81 total points, a grand total of one punt by two teams that rarely throw the ball and enough missed tackles to fill every seat in the stadium, it was a shoestring tackle by A-C’s heart and soul guy that decided the outcome. That would be senior linebacker/running back Cael Harter, whose fourth down stop of yet another Kutztown drive that reached deep into A-C territory proved to be just about the only memorable defensive play of the night by the home team.

Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich observes his players on defense. (Will Trostel)

“I can’t do many more of those,” said A-C head coach Matt Gingrich, equal parts proud, relieved and disgusted with his team’s performance. “I hated that game. Kudos to Kutztown, they played their ass off. I thought we could have put them away in the first half.”

Read More: At Annville-Cleona High School, it’s ‘Keeping Up with the Gingrichs’

“The neat part is we had every chance to fold in the second half and we did not. And I have no clue how we had one more point than they did. I have no clue how that happened. There were a lot of big plays at the end, a lot of kids stepping up.”

No one stepped up bigger in the end for the Dutchmen than Harter and fullback/defensive back Bryce Keller, who came through the with the eventual game-winning score with 4:41 left, a 3-yard burst up the middle that came just a few plays after he moved over to relieve starting QB Cam Connolly, who was forced to leave the game due to injury after a 45-yard scramble that set up Keller’s winning score.

“I didn’t even know I was going in at quarterback at first,” said Keller. “I saw an opportunity and I took it and I took the consequences that came with it.”

The consequences for A-C would have have been rather severe had it not been for the heroics of Keller, Harter, and Connolly, who combined for 388 of the Dutchmen’s whopping 406 rushing yards.

And they needed every one of those yards to hold off a spirited challenge from Kutztown (2-4), which was led by QB Colten Mathias, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and running back Brenden Ackley, whose 24-yard scoring romp with 8:56 left gave Kutztown its final lead of the back and forth affair at 40-34.

“It’s amazing to play in a game like this,” said Harter. “You just have to battle it out with your brothers and hope you come out on top. At the end of the day, we’re a family and we put it all together and won by one point and that’s all we had to do.”

After Keller’s go-ahead score and the ensuing extra point courtesy of birthday boy kicker Mina Elzek, the A-C family still had to withstand another Kutztown invasion of its territory.

Annville-Cleona quarterback Cameron Connelly hands of to his running back Bryce Keller. (Will Trostel)

It came in the form of yet another productive march down the field that put the visitors deep in A-C territory with the clock winding down under a minute to play.

And just as it appeared that A-C was about to give up the lead one final time, its resolve stiffened.

On a 4th and 3 play, Ackley took the handoff and sprinted toward the outside with his eyes directed toward the right corner of the end zone.

But Harter had other ideas, chasing Ackley down and taking him down with a desperate lunge and a shoestring tackle that would be his 11th and most memorable tackle of the night, if not his life.

“He was close to not touching him ” said Gingrich said of Harter’s game-saving stop. “That was a shoelace.”

“I played like crap a little bit tonight,” said Harter. “I missed some plays I should have had coming through on the sweeps. I knew I had one chance to make the tackle, and saw the hole, grabbed him by his shoelaces and hoped he would fall.”

And because of Harter’s final play heroics, the Dutchmen celebrated a most dramatic victory that was both not completely earned, yet richly deserved, if that makes any sense at all.

And why should it, since nothing else that transpired Friday night seemed to anyway.

But somehow, a team that Gingrich admitted he was ready to give up on just a few short weeks ago, now finds itself with a 4-2 record and three straight victories to take on the road to next week’s Section 5 first place showdown at perennial nemesis Lancaster Catholic.

“After (losses to) ELCO and Littlestown, I really had doubts we’d win another game. I had a lot of self-doubt. The last 14 quarters they have not been perfect, but they have been perfect efforts.”

Annville-Cleona Dutchmen

Read all our coverage of the Dutchmen here.


Head Coach: Matt Gingrich

Assistant Coaches: Joe Heckard, Greg Keener, Joe Shay, Jon Bopp, Drew Speraw, Cody Dodson, Jonathan Lum, Mike Miller

Jersey NumberNameGradePosition
1Miles Riehl11WR/DB
2Cash Watson12WR/DB
3Carson Grow12WR/DB
4Cael Harter12RB/DB
6Noah Riehl10WR/DB
7Wyatt Mase10QB/DB
8Liam Pulaski12WR/DB
9Gavin Martens10WR/DB
10Jonas Cupak11WR/DB
11Bryce Keller11RB/DB
13Ryan Barrientos11RB/LB
14Jonathan Moran10RB/LB
16Cameron Connelly12QB/DB
17Kaeli Pennington11WR/DB
19Yamaliel Navarro9RB/DB
21Mina Elzek12K
22Aidan Blauch11WR/DB
24Hudson Sellers10RB/LB
31Dominic Casciotti11WR/DB
33Luke Wentling10RB/LB
35Jack Getty11WR/DB
36Ivan Kreider11TE/LB
41Jonathon Shay11RB/DL
44Levi Heckard10TE/DL
50Dan Bright-Walck10OL/DL
51Alex Hemperly11OL/LB
52Damien Miller12OL/DL
53Anthony Gardner12OL/DL
54Malacai Victa11OL/DL
55Travis Wilk10OL/DL
59Jordan Nickens10OL/DL
64Armani Santos10OL/DL
68Nathanael Sanchez10OL/DL
70Blake Meyer10OL/DL
72Alec Tetzlaff12OL/DL
75Carter Smith12OL/DL
76Preston Bomgardner11OL/DL
77Jaxon Speece9OL/DL
87Darrian Holloway12TE/LB
89Timothy Montijo12RB/DL
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Pat Huggins covered local sports for the Lebanon Daily News for almost 25 years, beginning in January of 1999. Pat was born and raised in Lebanon County and is a 1987 graduate of Lebanon High School and a 1991 alum of Elizabethtown College. A huge Phillies and 76ers fan, Pat spends his spare time on...


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