Two football teams from Lebanon County have a realistic chance of playing an 11th game this season. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment, regardless off how they get there.
For one team -- the Lebanon Cedars -- it would be a great reward for a team that went 0-10 a season ago. Currently sitting in the 16th and final playoff spot in Class AAAA, the Cedars (6-3) can wrap up a spot in the District Three playoffs with a victory over Elizabethtown (3-6) on Friday night at Alumni Stadium and a little help.
"Our goal was to not have a losing season and our next goal is to make the postseason," head coach Gerry Yonchiuk said.
On the other hand, a second squad -- Annville-Cleona -- is also sitting in the final spot in Class AA and will likely remain in the 8-hole even if the Little Dutchmen lose to Section Three-leading Donegal in Annville on Friday night. A loss in the finale would give A-C a 3-7 record on the year, hardly the type of mark worthy of a postseason berth, depending on who you ask.
"Unfortunately, I think we're going to make it no matter what happens," A-C coach Terry Lehman said. "I hate to be 3-7 and make districts because we've had teams go 8-2 and not make it."
That being said, Lehman is confident his bunch won't be overmatch if it makes it into the postseason tournament.
"There's nobody in District Three AA that we can't beat if we play our game," he said.
For the Cedars, just being in the district playoff conversation is pretty amazing considering the team's winless season of 2012. Lebanon has been involved in three heart-stoppers this fall, including a 40-39 overtime victory over Northern Lebanon, a 44-42 thriller against Ephrata and last week's 48-44 last-second victory against Lampeter-Strasburg.
"I think the biggest difference is the maturity of the guys," Yonchiuk said, comparing last year to this season. "Last year we played so many sophomores and juniors. We knew that we were a year away. We were comparable to many junior varsity programs."
And this is a Lebanon team that, based on recent-year struggles, was asked to move down to Section Three next year when the L-L League realigns.
In order for the Cedars to make districts, Yonchiuk said his team would need to win and one of three teams -- No. 14 Manheim Township (5-4), No. 15 Chambersburg (5-4) or No. 17 Mechanicsburg (5-4) -- would still have to lose. If Lebanon and Mechanicsburg both win Friday, it is believed that Mechanicsburg would jump over Lebanon into the 16th spot.
Mechanicsburg plays No. 6 Cedar Cliff (8-1) on Friday, and Manheim Township meets No. 11 Hempfield (6-3), meaning both playoff contenders face uphill battles. Chambersburg takes on Mifflin County (4-5) in its finale.
A Cedar victory and a loss by a team in front of them could also push Lebanon up the standings, avoiding a first-round date with the likes of Wilson or Cumberland Valley.
The Cedars will rely on Mark Pyles, who leads the county in both passing (2,064) and rushing (1,012) yards and is also a major factor on defense, to beat E-town and keep their season going. Pyles has also thrown for 24 touchdowns and run for another 14 scores, with Jeremy De La Cruz (47 catches, 842 yards) and Nicholas Negron (22-417) among his favorite targets.
"After nine games, he has 38 touchdowns," Yonchiuk said of Pyles. "The numbers he's putting up, he might be leading the state in total offense. Everything Mark has earned, he's worked hard for."
Pyles, the Section Two Back of the Week following his 467 yards of total offense against L-S, has been helped by a line that includes Darius Ramsey -- the Lineman of the Week in the section -- and Connor Cummins. It's a unit that is succeeding thanks to the coaching of Carl Liedtka.
As for A-C, it has played well of late, winning three of its last four to put itself in position to make the postseason. The lone loss during that stretch came Friday at Elco in the form of a 26-14 setback.
"We laid a big, gold goose egg on Friday night," Lehman said. "We got caught up in penalties. We were out of sync. We just didn't make the plays we've been making.
"What I want to do this week is get back to playing the way we were playing the second half of the season."
A-C leads Pequea Valley (3-6) for the final berth in districts. The Braves play Garden Spot on Friday night and would need to snap a six-game losing streak and knock off the Spartans (7-2) and have the Dutchmen lose to Donegal (6-3) in order to jump into the eighth slot. If both win or both lose, it looks like A-C will keep the eighth seed.
"It will be a learning experience for the young kids," Lehman said of a possible spot in the playoffs. "But we kind of backed into it."
Around the county
Penn Manor at Cedar Crest, 7 p.m. >> The Falcons will take on an angry Comet bunch that held a 14-0 lead against Section One-leading Wilson last week only to lose, 21-14. Penn Manor is solidly in the Class AAAA district field at No. 10 but could get a first-round home game with a victory if things fall right.
The game will mark the final one in the careers of QB Gage Ocker (1,516 total yards, 18 total TDs) and RB Grant Boehler, and they'd like nothing better than to go out winners.
North Schuylkill at Elco, 7 p.m. >> Last season, the Raiders traveled to Ashland needing a victory to qualify for the district playoffs but were denied by the Spartans, who come in at 6-3. This year, Elco (4-5) is out of the playoff hunt but is looking to win its fourth straight to finish at .500.
Cameron Strause needs five yards to reach 1,000 and is just 18 yards behind Lebanon's Mark Pyles for the county rushing title. The senior is far and away the area's scoring leader with 25 touchdowns and will team with classmate Derek Miller (51 receptions, 548 yards, seven TDs) to supply an offense with firepower that will generate from the quarterback position held by sophomore Jeff Martin, who needs 21 yards through the air to eclipse 2,000.
Northern Lebanon at Columba, 7 p.m. >> It's been tough sledding for the Vikings (2-7), but they can end their year on a high note by beating the Crimson Tide, who are also struggling at 3-6.
Running back Derek DiAngelis (622 yards, six TDs) is among the seniors who will suit up for the final time for the purple and white.
Bishop McDevitt at Palmyra, 7 p.m. >> There's never a good time to play the Crusaders, but facing McDevitt after a loss might be at the top of the list. The top team in Class AAA was dealt its first setback of the season last week by Cedar Cliff and needs a win to assure itself of at least a share of the Keystone Division crown it currently shares with the Colts and Lower Dauphin.
On the other hand, the Cougars' Mitchell Cooper (13 TDs) will look to add to his county-leading totals of 71 receptions and 1,050 yards as Palmyra (1-8) bids adieu to the Keystone and hello to the Capital Division.