The Annville-Cleona football team did what it does. Most of the time, that was more than good enough.

But perhaps most importantly, the Dutchmen became the best version of themselves because of it.

On a brisk Friday night at Lebanon Alumni Stadium, Annville-Cleona’s terrific football season came to an end with a 35-14 loss to Camp Hill in the semifinals of the District Three Class AA playoffs. The up-tempo Lions started fast, and the Dutchmen never really got anything consistently going offensively.

The nation’s colors and the Pennsylvania state flag are presented prior to the Annville-Cleona band’s playing of the National Anthem. (Jeff Falk)
Annville-Cleona captains, from left to right, Cael Harter, Cam Connelly, Damien Miller and Darrian Holloway pay their respects during the playing of the National Anthem. (Jeff Falk)
Annville-Cleona captains, from left to right, Cam Connelly, Cael Harter, Damien Miller, and Darrian Holloway meet their Camp Hill counterparts at midfield for the pregame coin toss. (Jeff Falk)

Annville-Cleona, the tournament’s No. 1 seed and co-champions of the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Section Five, concluded its campaign with a 7-4 overall mark. Friday evening represented the Dutchmen’s fifth District Three postseason appearance in the last nine years.

Fourth-seeded Camp Hill improved to 6-5 on the year and marched into next weekend’s District Three title tilt. Lion quarterback Luke Branstetter threw four touchdown passes to four different teammates, and ran one in himself.

“Before the season, we had high expectations,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich. “But after six consecutive bad quarters early in the season, I really thought we might not win another game. The fact that we accomplished what we did, I’m super proud of these kids.”

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

Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich makes a point during the post-game address to his troops. (Jeff Falk)

“It was at halftime of the Littlestown game (a 33-21 road loss) and I just said, ‘We’ve got to do what we do,’” continued Gingrich. “’We’ve got to be physical, we’ve got to execute, but most important, we have to have fun.’ They held that atmosphere the rest of the year.”

“Going into the season, we had high expectations,” said Annville-Cleona’s emotional leader, running back Cael Harter. “We wanted to get back to this spot. We knew what we could do. I think the turning point was the Littlestown game, when we weren’t playing up to our ability. Ever since then, the season has been completely turned around.

“I’ll remember these guys battling,” added Harter, “and the young guys stepping up. We lost those two early games, but we dug out of it and battled. I’ll definitely remember the section championship. We did what we could and played hard.”

Annville-Cleona cornerback Dominic Casciotti stares down Camp Hill receiver Alex Long. But the scoreboard at Lebanon Alumni Stadium tells the real story. (Jeff Falk)
The Annville-Cleona offense huddles during a break in the action. (Jeff Falk)

After being staggered by Camp Hill’s quick start, Annville-Cleona found its footing 3:49 before halftime and pulled to within 21-7 of the lead. Reserve quarterback Wyatt Mase hooked up with receiver Jonathon Shay for a 68-yard touchdown toss.

Annville-Cleona runner Bryce Keller carried 16 times for 43 yards on Friday night. (Jeff Falk)

“I really thought we had a good chance to win,” said Gingrich. “Up front we really didn’t get much push. When we lost this year, we got beat up front. They (linemen) did a great job most of the year. We didn’t accentuate our positives.”

“We didn’t play up to our abilities,” said Harter. “We couldn’t get anything going. It’s a team effort. We all didn’t do our jobs. At the end of the day, nothing went our way. We battled the best we could and did everything Coach asked.”

Down 28-7 late in the third quarter, the Dutchmen once again pulled to within two scores of the Lions. A-C’s gigantic 18-play, 67-yard march ended with quarterback Cam Connelly’s four-yard burst to paydirt.

Annville-Cleona quarterback Cam Connelly looks to the sideline for the call of the next offensive play. (Jeff Falk)

“I told our guys at halftime that we were in a good spot,” said Gingrich. “We didn’t play our best and we were only down two touchdowns. We just struggled to make a read and get the ball where it was supposed to go. We did steady it. But the problem was the offense didn’t do what it needed to do.”

At times on Friday night, the Annville-Cleona defense experienced difficulties lining up in the right positions. (Jeff Falk)

“At halftime, Coach just said, ‘Keep the energy up,’” said Harter. “He did some stuff on the whiteboard to get us going. He told us, ‘keep battling the best you can and see what happens.’”

Early on, Camp Hill pretty much did whatever it wanted to do offensively. Throwing the ball all over the yard and gaining yardage in chunks, the Lions scored 1:36 into the contest and led 14-0 with 5:30 left in the opening quarter.

This midfield formation was meant to deter any thoughts Camp Hill may have had of an onside kick. (Jeff Falk)

And when Branstetter collaborated with Kobe Moore on a four-yard touchdown pass, Camp Hill had a 21-0 lead 7:09 before the break.

“They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” said Gingrich. “We didn’t do a good job of lining up defensively. They did have some really talented kids, but we did not have the ability to cover top-shelf talent. We worked on it all week. The people we had out there are the best we have.”

Annville-Cleona’s Dominic Casciotti attempts to digest the disappointment of a season-ending defeat. (Jeff Falk)

“We clearly were not ready for this game,” Gingrich added. “We just didn’t match up and we didn’t understand the principles.”

“They definitely caught us off guard,” said Harter of the Lions. “Our defense had a hard time lining up with them. It was nothing different. We just couldn’t cover.”

Annville-Cleona ran 50 running plays and gained 121 yards on the ground.

Parise completed 23 of 32 pass attempts for 267 yards.

The game was played at Lebanon Alumni Stadium due to ongoing construction at Annville-Cleona High School.

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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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of, sports director at WLBR...


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