It was appropriate that a game featuring two evenly matched teams battling for first place would come down to the final play.
A 38-yard field goal attempt by Annville-Cleona went wide as time expired with a 14-13 Schuylkill Valley win on a damp and rainy Friday evening on Senior Night in Annville.
The field goal attempt by senior kicker Mina Elzek had enough distance but was wide left of the uprights.
Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich praised his team’s efforts despite the loss, which dropped their Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Five record to 5-1 in league play and 6-3 overall on the season.
“Very proud of how they battled, they are a very tough team and we did a real good job hanging tight,” said Gingrich. “I was very proud of their effort and also very proud of our kicker for making a good kick on a ball after not kicking most of the night.”
Gingrich felt, however, that the Dutchmen lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
“We got beat up upfront on offense and defense, not many things I can do when we’re getting beat like that,” said Gingrich. “Kudos to them. They were just the tougher and more physical team and they were ready to play.”
While the Panthers were, as Gingrich said, ready to play, the Dutchmen were anything but. They came out flat, gaining just nine yards on their first three possessions of the game.
“I don’t like Senior Night, (for seniors) to stand out here an extra 30 minutes and I’ve never had a Senior Night start well. But everyone has a Senior Night and we’re not the only ones to have to go through that,” said Gingrich.
The Panthers, on the other hand, took their first possession of the game, after Annville-Cleona had punted after three downs, and drove 50 yards on three plays in just a minute and change to take a 7-0 lead.
Gains of 15 and 17 yards and an 18-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Logan Nawrocki to senior wide receiver Luke Martinez, who caught the ball along the Dutchmen sideline and broke two tackles, highlighted their opening drive.
Gingrich said he expected his team to battle back since it’s been a trait of theirs all season. The Dutchmen did just that with a 14-play, 86-yard drive that featured all runs from the team known as “ground and pound.”
A key play was a 23-yard, up-the-middle run by senior running back Cael Harter to the Panthers’ 29-yard line. Seven plays later, Harter rushed six yards for his 12th touchdown on the season and the game was 7-7 following the extra point with 8:35 to go in the second quarter.
Harter led the Dutchmen’s ground attack with 110 yards on 19 carries.
“Cael is a three-sport athlete that works hard all the time. Cael has never disappointed me one day in his entire life,” said Gingrich. “I can’t say how proud I am of him as an athlete but even more so as a human. He’s my son’s favorite player.”
The Dutchmen would grab the lead on its very next series following a Schuylkill Valley turnover deep in their own territory.
The Panthers fumbled the ball on the first play of their next possession at their own 29-yard line.
Annville-Cleona ran the ball seven times and scored just under three minutes later to take a 13-7 lead after a one-yard quarterback keeper by senior Cameron Connelly. Connelly, who rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries, tied Harter for the team touchdown lead with his 12th score of the season.
In what would prove later to be a costly play, the Panthers blocked the extra point and the Dutchmen took a 13-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Taking possession at their own 40-yard line after a short kickoff to open the half, Schuylkill Valley would strike quickly, going 60 yards on one play for what would prove to be the final score of the game.
Senior running back Dominic Giuffre avoided several Dutchmen tacklers to scamper for the score. Giuffre led the Panthers’ ground attack with 141 yards on 14 carries.
Turnover on downs for both teams and several punts dominated the second half prior to the failed field goal attempt. Taking possession at their own five-yard line with 3:17 to go in the game, Annville-Cleona took advantage of three Panther penalties, including two personal fouls, and a pass interference to gain huge chunks of yards.
The first penalty, a personal foul for roughing the passer on fourth down, kept the Dutchmen’s drive alive and a dead ball personal foul would move the ball to the Panthers’ 28-yard line and help setup the game-winning field goal try.
Gingrich was disappointed in his teams’ offensive effort, saying it’s hard to win a high school football game when your team scores so few points.
“If you only score 13 points in a high school football game, your offense didn’t really play that well,” said Gingrich. “Giving up 14 points you should win a high school football game – especially at this level. Credit to them because they made the stops whenever they needed it.”
Schuylkill Valley’s record improved to 6-0 in league play, 8-1 overall, as they secured first place in Section Five with one week to go in the regular season. The Dutchmen wrap up their regular season next week when they travel to Fredericksburg to take on division rival Northern Lebanon Vikings.
Northern Lebanon (3-3 L-L, 4-5 overall) dropped a nail-biter to the Hamburg Hawks 41-34 at Hamburg.
Head Coach: Matt Gingrich
Assistant Coaches: Joe Heckard, Greg Keener, Joe Shay, Jon Bopp, Drew Speraw, Cody Dodson, Jonathan Lum, Mike Miller
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