Eagles headed to Hershey

By on November 25, 2014

Punch ticket to District finals with 24-6 win over Boone

Cocalico team members Denny Boyer (52) and John Fry (54), as well as others, celebrate the Eagles 24-6 victory over Daniel Boone Friday in the District semifinals. Cocalico earned a trip to the finals where they’ll face unbeaten Bishop McDevitt Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

Cocalico team members Denny Boyer (52) and John Fry (54), as well as others, celebrate the Eagles 24-6 victory over Daniel Boone Friday in the District semifinals. Cocalico earned a trip to the finals where they’ll face unbeaten Bishop McDevitt Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

Back in Week Five, Cocalico was humbled, 42-0 by Lampeter-Strasburg on its home turf. At the time, no one would have predicted the Eagles would be playing for a District title in Hershey in late November, members of the team included.

“I’d be lying to you after that L-S game that I thought we’d end up (in the District finals),” Cocalico senior linebacker Jake Keifer admitted Friday night.

But that’s exactly where he and his teammates are headed after the Eagles punched their ticket Friday in Denver with a convincing 24-6 victory over Daniel Boone in the District semifinals.

The seventh-seeded Eagles, who have now won seven of eight since that loss to L-S, were dominant in the running game and stout defensively vs. the Blazers.

Junior fullback Hunter High led a Cocalico rushing attack that produce 284 yards on the ground as he finished with 193 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Defensively, the Eagles forced three turnovers and limited Boone to just 173 yards in total offense as Cocalico will now advance to face Bishop McDevitt, a 44-0 winner over Red Land, Friday (7 p.m.) at Hersheypark Stadium for the District crown.

The Cocalico defense, led by Travis Haley (left) and Abdul Saad (68), sandwich Daniel Boone quarterback Nick Hughes during Friday’s 24-6 Eagle victory in the District semifinal game in Denver.

The Cocalico defense, led by Travis Haley (left) and Abdul Saad (68), sandwich Daniel Boone quarterback Nick Hughes during Friday’s 24-6 Eagle victory in the District semifinal game in Denver.

“I’m ecstatic right now,” Keifer said. “I love my team. I get another week with them. It’s a very big game that’s coming up this week. It’s going to be the biggest test of our lives.”

Added High, “it feels amazing to be going to Hershey. I can’t describe it with words.”

What was the secret to overcoming that devastating loss to L-S?

“We battled back as a team, and fought through adversity,” Keifer said. “We did what we could do and we put ourselves in position to go. And now we’re going.”

John Fry, a four-year starter who anchors the offensive line, said it was belief that carried this team through.

“It just proves our character,” he said. “A lot of people and a lot of teams would have just packed it in and said, ‘We are 3-2, we are not going anywhere this year. We are not going to compete in the section and we might not even get to Districts.’ But that’s not how our team is. We just came together and said, ‘Look, we know we have something special here.’ We just had to keep rolling and work our hardest and make each other better, week in and week out and try to do our best. And here we are.”

This will be Cocalico’s sixth appearance in the District finals and first since 2010 when the Eagles dropped a 29-14 decision to Bishop McDevitt. Cocalico Coach Dave Gingrich saw this team overcome numerous hurdles to get there, including injuries, a heavy graduation loss off of last year, not to mention that loss to L-S.

Still they persevered.

“When we were going to (pre-season) media day, I was driving and just talking about different things,” he said following Friday’s win. “One of the things they had said to me before we got there was that they wanted to make a name for themselves. I think they made a name for themselves. I think this team, this group of seniors in particular leading this group, has made a name for themselves. It’s well documented what we lost. We had one starter returning on defense and three returning on offense. We had a couple injuries this year that were key but this group held us together. I don’t have many words to describe how proud I am.”

There were two key moments that helped lead to Friday’s big win, and the first came on Cocalico’s first play from scrimmage when High fumbled (the first of three fumbles on the night or the Eagles) at the Daniel Boone 41. After allowing a 28-yard run by Boone’s Solomon Ramsey. the Eagle defense stiffened and eventually stuffed the Blazers (8-5) twice at the two-yard line to keep them off the board.

“We started the game with a turnover,” Gingrich said. “We turned the ball over way too many times but the thing I liked, they didn’t quit. They didn’t pout. They just got up and the defense played and made plays. It was nice to see that we picked each other up.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Cocalico seized control in the second. Following a long 13-play 75-yard drive, High cashed in on a one-yard plunge with 10 minutes to go in the half to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead.

The Eagle defense then set them up with 5:33 to go in the second when Justin Marderness pounced on a loose ball at midfield after Boone QB Nick Hughes failed to hall in a high snap. A 19-yard run by High and a 10-yard jaunt by Devon Delpiano (4-20) set up an eventual five-yard touchdown run by DJ Fabiani to make it 13-0.

After the Blazers went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, Cocalico took over at the Daniel Boone 40, and High went right to work. The junior broke a run off left tackle all the way to the Blazer one yard line. High, who replaced the injured Matt Weinhold two weeks ago, then got the call again on the next play and banged it in from one yard out with 1:03 to play. His two-point conversion run closed out the half and gave Cocalico a commanding 21-0 lead.

‘Hunter has come a long way since the beginning of the year,” Fry said of the fullback. “He’s definitely improved a lot. We couldn’t be happier for him how he’s stepped up. He’s a tough kid. He’s going to run right through them.”

Gingrich added, “Hunter was upset (after his early fumble). I think Hunter is Hunter’s biggest critic, but where Hunter was last year and where he is this year is just night and day. He’s 100 percent better. He’s a hard worker, he’s conscientious…he get upset when he doesn’t do the right things but I knew he was going to come right back and play hard. And our offensive line set the tone. We found a couple sets that we liked, formation-wise, and we were able to attack them.”

After an early turnover to start the third, the Eagles defense held and the offense got another opportunity, taking over at their own 25 with 9:38 to go in the third.

And the offense didn’t waste it. Cocalico used 18 plays and chewed up the rest of the third quarter clock in marching all the way down to the Boone nine-yard line. The Eagles did eventually settle for a 26-yard field goal by Matt McKinney to up the lead to 24-0, but more importantly, drained any life remaining from the Blazers.

“That was Cocalico football right there,” Fry said of the drive. “We were running the rock, wearing their defense down.”

Added Gingrich, “I didn’t think we played our best game. We were not mistake free, and some of that’s due to them. But that drive in the third quarter was big. Now we only came away with three points, but we came away with points. We chewed up a bunch of clock and I thought that was a great drive.”

Boone did eventually get on the board with 4:27 to go when Ramsey (11-44) went around right end for an 18-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, as did the ensuing onside kick, which was recovered by the Eagles.

Marderness then put the finishing touches on this one when he intercepted Hughes with 1:07 to play.

“We were sick of hearing about losing last year’s starters and how we were not returning anybody and it might be a rebuilding season for Cocalico,” Fry said when asked about the pact he and his fellow seniors’ made and announced to their coach and media on that drive back in August. “We just kept working in the weight room, getting to practice and just grinding and pushing each other…We knew that no matter what, if we kept grinding we’d keep going.

And now they’re off to Hershey.

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