In football, as in life, it's easy to get knocked down. And in some cases, stepped on while you're lying on the ground.

The tricky part is getting back up and getting back in the fight.

That's the task that awaits the Elco and Northern Lebanon football teams as they try to recover from mid-season losing streaks that have sidetracked promising starts to their respective 2012 seasons.

The Raiders, who will host the Section Three matchup/resumption of a spirited county rivalry with the Vikings on a Homecoming Friday night in Myerstown, have seen their feel-good 3-1 start turn into a less-pleasant .500 record after back-to-back blowout losses to section heavyweights Garden Spot and Donegal.

Northern Lebanon, meanwhile, is in the midst of a four-game losing streak that comes on the heels of a 2-0 start. That descent may have reached its rock-bottom point with losses to perennial lesser lights Pequea Valley and Fleetwood the last two weeks.

We'll find out Friday night which scuffling squad has regained its footing, and which one still has some work to do to become upright again.

"It's not (fun)," Elco coach Robert Miller said of his club's recent struggles, which have all but eliminated it from the Section Three title race. "But it's been a learning experience for them and they're taking it well. Our kids cared against Donegal, it wasn't like they blew it off. We just got blown out.



And because they did, Miller is more pleased than he normally would be about this week's contest being the Raiders' Homecoming game. Normally a bringer of distractions, Homecoming 2012 for Elco could be just what the doctor ordered for Miller's ailing club.

"I hate Homecoming. Every coach hates Homecoming," Miller said with a good-natured chuckle. "But it's actually welcome, because it's something that kinda took a little of the focus off the last two weeks. We still have one goal up there (earning a district playoff berth) and we've gotta continue to work towards it.

"They'd like to have a Week 11 and it'll take a winning record to get there. It's still up there."

Then there's the injury-riddled Vikings who are simply looking for anything positive to jumpstart their season again after a slew of offensive line injuries chipped away at the foundation of a strong start and contributed heavily to the four straight losses.

"We've never really improved from weeks 1 and 2," said NL coach Roy Wall, who's missing, among others, seniors Ryan Kelliher and Andrew Emrich on the O-line. "We've been beset by injuries and it seems like we're always trying to plug the holes in the dike. We went from starting four seniors on the offensive line to one senior, one junior, two sophomores and a freshman."

Still, Miller likes what he's seen of the Vikings on film and expects to get their best shot come Friday night.

"They're a very physical team," Miller said of Northern Lebanon. "I've watched them on film and they like to hit, you can see that."

Elco hasn't fared very well against physical teams the last two weeks, as evidenced by the bloody noses handed about by the big front of Garden Spot and Donegal.

But the Raiders were physical up front in the early going while prying open holes for quarterback/running back Cameron Strause and fullback Adam Shoemaker and are hopeful of getting back to that style against the Vikes, whose defensive strength at linebacker has also been bitten by the injury bug.

"The Strause kid, we like him a lot," Wall said. "He's definitely the focal point. And we can't just try to slow him down, we have to stop him. We haven't stopped a quarterback since Week 1. We have to be in the right position to make plays (defensively). The scheme is there, we just have to execute. It comes down to being consistent for four quarters."

"It's very important," Miller said of Elco's need to find itself again on offense. "And it's about finding first-down success. We have not done that the last couple weeks. If you go back to the first couple weeks, it was play-action passes (that were the key). No one's biting on play action when it's second and 9, third and 9. We have to get back to that."

But ultimately, what each team needs more than improvement in specific areas of concern is simply a win. Any kind of win to get their once-promising seasons back on some kind of positive track.

"If they can do that, that's all on them," Miller said of his club's attempt to finish strong and better last season's 3-7 mark. "If they can come out of this season with a better record and leave the program better than what they started it, that's a testament to them. And it's a testament to the assistant coaches.

"These kids, they're gonna be rewarded with that record if they get it, and they're going to have to earned it. It's really something where they control their own destiny. They'll deserve the success that they're earning."

"You never want to go on an eight-game losing streak," Wall said with a chuckle. "And we actually haven't hit the hard part of our schedule yet. We just want to see if we can get some positive momentum going to carry us into the offseason.

"It's a rivalry game and the kids will be up for it. Both teams want to finish strong."

And to do that, the success for the Vikings and the Raiders has to begin anew on Friday night.

Note: In addition to the Homecoming festivities on Friday night, Elco will be honoring longtime former buildings and grounds coordinator George Rohr, who passed away in April. The school is naming the press box at the Elco stadium in honor of Rohr. The "George G. Rohr Memorial Press Box" will be renovated at the end of the fall sports season.

Annville-Cleona at Columbia, 7 p.m.

No disrespect to the Crimson Tide, but you can bet the Little Dutchmen can't wait to head to Columbia for this one.

You can't blame them, either. At 2-4 overall and 1-1 in Section Three, the Dutchmen have some reason to believe they're a better team than their record indicates. That's because the record of the four opponents that have beaten them suggests it.

Care to guess the combined won-loss mark of those teams - Tri-Valley, Schuylkill Valley, Tamaqua and Garden Spot? Give yourself a gold star if you said 23-1. Yep, 23-1, and it would be a perfect 24-0 if Schuylkill Valley hadn't dropped an extremely narrow 21-20 decision to Berks Catholic last week.

So, yeah, a date with the 2-4 Crimson Tide sounds pretty good to Terry Lehman's squad. Columbia did pitch a shutout in a 22-0 win over Pequea Valley last week, but prior to that was giving up points at an alarming rate.

Could be good news for A-C's dual threat junior QB Mitch Rodkey, who figures to be calling his own number a few times on Friday night.

Hempfield at Cedar Crest, 7 p.m.

Speaking of a team due for a schedule break, here come the Falcons fresh off back-to-back drubbings from Section One powers Wilson and Manheim Township.

Nursing a five-game winning streak since that now long-ago opening week rout of Lebanon, Cedar Crest should find Hempfield a bit more to its liking than some of its more recent opponents. The Black Knights (2-4) are in four-game free fall and have surrendered at least 44 points in each of those four straight defeats.

Um, this is the week for the Falcons to prove they're not headed for another 1-9 campaign.

Cocalico at Lebanon, 7 p.m.

Just when the winless Cedars show some signs of life - they led Solanco at the half last week before falling, 35-21 - here comes Section Two leader Cocalico to spoil any potential fun.

And the Eagles are undoubtedly feeling it after ringing up a 48-35 victory over archnemesis Manheim Central last week. Despite that big win, don't expect Annville native Dave Gingrich's club to look past Lebanon. That's now how Cocalico got to be 5-1 overall and in charge in the section title race.

Palmyra at Red Land, 7 p.m.

Roughly 11 months ago, Palmyra-Red Land was arguably the most anticipated matchup in Cougar football history. This year, not so much.

Last November, Palmyra was in the midst of a dream season and fresh off a triple-overtime upset of mighty Manheim Central in the first round of the District Three Class AAA playoffs when it was preparing to face Red Land.

Now, the Cougars are off to an 0-6 start, dealing with an unforgiving Mid-Penn Keystone Division schedule and set to face a 5-1 Red Land club that began Palmyra's current slide with a 56-28 win in the district quarterfinals last season.

Times have changed. Quickly. But fear not Cougar faithful, the fall of 2011 lives forever.