By Brandon Persinger
Special to the Advocate
The Elizabethtown Bears football team is still searching for its first win of 2011. After losing to Cedar Crest Colts and the Hershey Trojans by the respective scores of 45-14 and 51-14, the Bears are hoping that the matchup with the Manheim Township Blue Streaks might bring a different result.
The game has a special significance to the Bears for a pair of reasons. It is the team’s first game in 2011 against a Lancaster-Lebanon League opponent, and it represents a victory that the Bears desperately need if they are to remain in contention this season.
“We’ve got to start turning it around,” head coach Mike Cottle said. “We definitely want to get better this week.”
Last year, the Blue Streaks narrowly edged the Bears by the score of 28-26 after fending off a furious 19-point fourth-quarter rally by Elizabethtown. Despite strong performances from then-quarterback Andy Breault (who threw for two touchdowns and ran for one more) and wide receiver/cornerback Kirby Breault (who caught three passes for 37 yards and logged a pair of interceptions), the Bears’ comeback effort ultimately fell short.
But this year, though the task of defeating the Blue Streaks remains no less difficult, there are a few signs that point to the Bears having an opportunity to leave the field with one in the win column.
The first sign is the emergence of junior Max Daley and the Bears’ passing game. After being stifled by Cedar Crest in the team’s opening game, Daley and his receivers began to gain some traction against the Trojan defense last week. Daley finished with a final line of eight completions in 14 attempts for 168 yards and one touchdown, while wideout Kirby Breault pulled in eight passes for an eye-popping 172 yards.
Another sign that points to increased success for Elizabethtown against Manheim Central is the fact that the Blue Streaks’ defense has yielded a high number of points to its opponents so far this season. The unit has yielded a total of 59 points in just two games, a statistic that has not gone unnoticed by Cottle and his team.
“We made some changes on offense this week,” Cottle said. “We still want to be able to run the ball, use quick passing…that’s what we want to do this week. I’m hoping we can get to 100 or 200 yards rushing this week.”
But don’t hand the Bears a win just yet. The squad will still have to contend with a potent Blue Streak offense that has put up nearly 60 points through two games in 2011. In the Blue Streaks’ first game against the Central Dauphin Rams, the team found the endzone three times and scored 21 points; in the team’s second game against the Red Lion Lions, the Blue Streaks won a shootout by putting up a whopping 34 points. Indeed, the group has enough balance and playmaking ability to compensate for any of the issues that its defensive counterpart may possess, making it a tough challenge for a Bears defense that so far has given up 96 points to opposing teams.
“You’ve got to game-plan for a balanced attack,” Cottle said. “My guess is they (Manheim Township) are going to try to run the ball at us. They’re going to be bigger than us up front, and I would say they’re going to try to pound it at us.”
The Bears’ game-planning process has included practicing snap count drills in order to turn the penalty battle in their favor. Cottle’s hope is that by running such drills in practice, his players will be on the same page as each other, eliminating any potential false start penalties due to a Bears player making an early motion before a play begins. Cottle also hopes that the different snap counts will trick the Blue Streak defense into jumping across the line of scrimmage early and being penalized.
“We had … a lot of penalties that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “This week, we’re working on our snap counts. I told the quarterbacks that every time they call a play, call it on different snap counts so that we can get used to going on snap counts.”
Still, for the coach, it all boils down to putting in the hard work during the week. And Cottle is confident that, with a full week of practice during which team can get back into their football routine, the Bears can demonstrate the resilience of their character and make the necessary improvements to come out on top against Manheim Township.
“The kids are working hard,” he said. “The week off hurt us, but the kids are still there, we’ve still got our goals in sight that we set up as a team. This week’s going to let us know. This week we need to go out and we need show improvement. That’s what I’m looking for. If we do that, if we get all 11 guys on either side of the ball improving, then we’ll see what happens.”