Triple-A Semifinals on Hersheypark’s A-turf

Hershey, Pa.- Following a first-round loss in last year’s District 3 Class Triple-A playoffs, this year’s Lampeter-Strasburg football team adopted the motto, “One More.”

After three playoff victories in a row, the Pioneers have one-mored themselves to a shot at the district championship.

Backed by a sterling defensive effort, L-S overcame a rash of self-inflicted wounds on offense, defeating Hershey 17-7 in a Triple-A semifinal Friday night in Hersheypark Stadium.

The seventh-seeded Pioneers (11-2 overall) will return to Hersheypark Stadium at 7 p.m. next Friday to face Gettysburg, the No. 4 seed, for the Triple-A title. Gettysburg (12-1) defeated Daniel Boone 35-14 Friday in the other Triple-A semifinal.

After a scoreless first half, L-S’s Joe Good scored on a 4-yard dive and, later in the game, Justin Taylor directed a 22-yard field goal through the uprights.

But the pivotal point of the game came with 2:50 left in the third quarter when the Pioneers’ Abe Mellinger returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.

Following Good’s TD, the Pioneers held Hershey (10-3) to a three-and-out, the sixth of seven times that would happen.

Trojans’ punter Nick Hastings drilled a line drive – out-kicking his coverage – that backed Mellinger up a good five yards.

Mellinger gathered the ball at the 16 and burst through containment at the 20.

“I caught the ball, the hole opened up and I just kept running for the end zone,” Mellinger recalled.

Moving to his left, he got an angle on Hastings and Jake Campbell, who were trailing the play, outracing both to the end zone.

“It was like a dream,” Mellinger said. “I didn’t believe it until I crossed the end zone and saw all my players run towards me.”

“We haven’t had one in such a long time,” L-S coach John Manion said. “I can’t even remember our last. We’ve been getting better the last couple years in punt returns, (but) you don’t expect one to go, what was it, 85-90 yards?

“It might have been a little bit of a fluke play,” he continued, “but I felt like, for our kids, it was a payback for the (points) we gave up in the second quarter.”

He was speaking of L-S quarterback Brett Graeff’s fumble at the Hershey 7, one of three first-half turnovers that kept the game scoreless despite L-S’s 144-30 advantage in total yardage.

“The score didn’t reflect what we were doing,” Manion said. “But we worked through it, and the defense kept us in long enough for us to figure out how to get it done.”

The Pioneers’ defense had four tackles for losses and sacked Trojans’ quarterback Mike Wagner three times in the first half.

L-S had four sacks and eight tackles for losses in all – led by Chris Eldredge (two sacks, one tackle for a loss), Blair Stevens (sack, two TFLs) and Anthony Cintron (two TFLs) – and held Hershey to 101 total yards and five first downs.

Hershey tailback Tyler Neal, who came into the game with 1,047 yards and averaging 4.8 yards per carry, finished with minus-5 yards on 10 touches.

Hershey finished with minus-6 yards on 21 rushes as a team, while Wagner completed 11 of 24 passes for 107 yards.

The Pioneers’ defense stood tallest when Hershey got the ball in the red zone on an interception near the end of the first quarter.

Hastings, who got a mitt on three of Graeff’s passes from his defensive tackle spot, tipped a pass to linemate Bobby Ruth. Ruth rumbled 7 yards to the L-S 13, but Seth Rolko dropped Neal for a 3-yard loss and, eventually, Hastings pushed a 25-yard field goal try to the right.

“We usually capitalize on (turnovers),” Hershey coach Bob “Gump” May said. “We just couldn’t get a good rhythm. Offensively, we just couldn’t do a thing.”

L-S got untracked offensively on its second possession of the second half when a 13-yard misdirection by Rob Zimmerman (15 carries for 86 yards) and a 22-yard sweep by Taylor (15-112) put the ball at the Hershey 11.

Good (12-51) powered his way to the 4, then, with 4:54 left in the third quarter, bulled through a hole between center Peter Baker and Stevens, the left guard.

With time running out in the third quarter, L-S presented Hershey with yet another gift – Taylor’s fumble near midfield.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, Wagner found wideout Chris Boyer behind defensive back Derek Lefever at the L-S 9. Lefever went for the interception, missed, and Boyer (3 catches for 61 yards) completed the 34-yard scoring play.

The Trojans never got closer as L-S, putting together two long possessions, drained almost nine minutes off the clock and time ran out on Hershey.

“Once we settled in, we started playing Lampeter-Strasburg football,” Zimmerman said. “It was a lot of fun. It was a nice, physical football game.”

Physical? He’ll get no argument from May.

“They beat us up on both sides of the ball,” the veteran coach said. “I don’t know if we could’ve played another game (had they won). It just wasn’t a great night for us.

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