Pioneers Win Defensive Battle, Hoist District Trophy
On a brisk but unseasonably warm Friday night in West Lampeter Township, the Section 3 champion Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers took on the Section 4 champion ELCO Raiders. The Raiders were appearing in their first District III title game since 2001, while the Pioneers looked to defend their title after last season's 35-21 defeat of the Berks Catholic Saints. It was an emotionally charged and hotly contested game that did not disappoint.
On paper, this game looked to be a fascinating game to watch. ELCO's league-leading defense and ground-and-pound offensive style clashing with the Pioneer's high-scoring and air-oriented offense. Penalties killed the Pioneer defense throughout the first half, seemingly committing a penalty every time they had a chance to get the Raider offense off the field. The Raiders finally broke the double goose-egg on the scoreboard after Rheece Shuey converted on a 25 yard field goal. The Pioneers entered halftime in uncharted territory. For the first time all season, they went into the intermission both scoreless and losing.
At the beginning of the second half, the momentum shifted in favor of the Pioneers. Parker Owens made a big stop on 3rd down, forcing the Raiders to punt. The Pioneer offense proceeded to march down the field, only to be stalled by the Raiders' L-L League leading the defense. As a result, the Pioneers were forced to settle for a field goal. The game was deadlocked at 3 after Andrew Reidenbaugh's 27 yarder. On the next offensive possession for the Pioneers, a pair of big catches by Ian Herr set up another Reidenbaugh field goal, this time a 25 yarder to give the Pioneers their first lead of the night.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Pioneer defense came up big. An option play call by Raider head coach Bob Miller failed miserably as the pitch was fumbled and subsequently recovered by Alex Knapp. Knapp returned the ball all the way to the 15-yard line, setting up a touchdown catch by Beau Heyser to bring the Pioneer lead to 10. With about 8 minutes remaining in the game, Austin Stoltzfus shed multiple defenders en route to a game-icing 72 yard touchdown reception. The TD made the score Lampeter-Strasburg 20, ELCO 3. This scoreline would hold, making the Pioneers back-to-back District III 4-A champions.
Sean McTaggart: Despite a rough first half, McTaggart made the throws when he needed to. He found 3 different receivers on 30+ yard catches, no small feat when you have all-state DB Braden Bohannon on the other side of the ball.
Pioneer Defense: It would have been easy to back down to this offense. An offense that averaged over 330 rushing yards per game during the regular season. But the Pioneer defense never relented, holding the Raiders to 3 points and just 162 rushing yards. Parker Owens, Nick del Grande, and Elijah Carr all made huge plays throughout the night.
ELCO Running Game: Despite being held to only roughly half of their usual capabilities, they still made every Pioneer fan uneasy. You're doing something right when you can keep Sean McTaggart and company off the field for long enough to keep them scoreless for 30 minutes.
Honorable Mentions: HB/DB Alex Knapp, WR Ian Herr, ELCO QB/DB Braden Bohannon
(ELCO) Rheece Shuey 25 Yard Field Goal. LS 0 - ELCO 3.
(LS) Andrew Reidenbaugh 27 Yard Field Goal. LS 3 - ELCO 3.
(LS) Andrew Reidenbaugh 25 Yard Field Goal. LS 6 - ELCO 3.
(LS) Beau Heyser 17 Yard Reception. LS 13 - ELCO 3.
(LS) Austin Stoltzfus 72 Yard Reception. LS 20 - ELCO 3.
(LS) Sean McTaggart: 8-16, 267 Yards, 2 TDs
(ELCO) Braden Bohannon: 3-8, 48 Yards
(ELCO) Cole Thomas: 14 Rushes, 59 Yards
(LS) Sean McTaggart: 7 Rushes, 39 Yards
(LS) Drew Harris: 11 Rushes, 39 Yards
(ELCO) Luke Williams: 9 Rushes, 38 Yards
(LS) Ian Herr: 3 Receptions, 112 Yards
(LS) Austin Stoltzfus: 2 Receptions, 80 Yards, 1 TD
(LS) Beau Heyser: 2 Receptions, 65 Yards, 1 TD
(ELCO) RG Peiffer: 2 Receptions, 42 Yards
After Pioneer head coach John Manion attempted (unsuccessfully) to avoid the traditional Gatorade shower, the players were awarded the 3rd District III trophy in school history. Next up for the Pioneers is a PIAA state semifinal matchup against the District IV champion Jersey Shore Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have an undefeated record of 9-0 and defeated the Crestwood Comets 26-14 for the right to face the Pioneers. The game will take place Friday night at home with a golden ticket to Hersheypark Stadium on the line.
By Logan Moyer, LS News reporter
Photos by Jonathan Klein, LS News Editor-in-Chief