From the beginning of the 2017 football season the Lancaster Legends seemed destined for greatness. Week by week they continued to climb the ladder of success that was the Class AA State Finals in Syracuse, NY last Sunday. The Legends ran into a mirror image of themselves, the Troy Flying Horses of Section II and the defending State champion at the Carrier Dome and left on the south side of glory.
Troy beat Lancaster 41-26 in front of an estimated crowd of 3000, with a solid contingent of Western New Yorkers making the two and a half-hour drive. And though they would leave without the result they were hoping for many wouldn’t have missed it had they known how the dance would end.
Ever since last year’s defeat at the Far West Regionals there was anticipation that the Legends could return and take the program to a level they’ve never reached. That they did. Head coach Eric Rupp in just his second season at the helm guided Lancaster to places neither former coaching legends Joe Foyle nor Len Jankiewicz did.
In the end though, the Legends couldn’t contain the Flying Horses’ high-powered offense. Lancaster had met their match. Running back Joe Ward was unlike any back the Legends faced all season. Not only was he fast but he was elusive, from the first drive until the last. Ward rushed for 233 yards, caught five passes for another 67 and scored four touchdowns to be named MVP of the game. “We knew that they had a very good defense,” Ward said after the game. “Scoring on that opening drive was big for us, it proved that we could move the ball and score points. We watched a lot of film, everybody on this team was ready but until you get in those situations you don’t know.”
Lancaster turned the ball over on downs on their first possession. Rupp gambled on 4th and one just inside the 50-yard line but Troy stopped the Legends’ Joel Andreesen for a loss. Dev Holmes, a Villanova commit might have been the best player on the field. Anytime the ball was around him he made a play.
Holmes caught a 58-yard TD pass from Joe Casale early in the second quarter stretching Troy’s lead to 14 points.
Lancaster then put a solid drive together, going 82 yards on 13 plays. Andrew Hersey capped off the drive with a four-yard TD run. Max Giordano’s successful extra point try cut the deficit in half. Not to be outdone, Troy burned up some clock on their next possession which resulted in a twelve play drive ending with another Holmes TD. The Flying Horses missed the extra point attempt but upped their lead 20-7.
The Legends were threatening just before the end of the half but a late interception negated a scoring opportunity. It was Holmes once again providing the heroics.
Down two scores at the half, Troy proved to be too much to overcome for Lancaster. The Flying Horses took a 28-7 lead in the third quarter when Casale hit Ward for a seven-yard strike in the end zone. Casale then rushed in for the two-point conversion.
Andreesen scored on a one-yard TD run at the end of the third quarter and after Kyle Backert converted with his extra point attempt, Lancaster once again narrowed the gap to 14 points. But Ward, man, Lancaster won’t soon forget his name. He found the end zone nine plays later.
The Legends didn’t go away quietly though. Ryan Mansell threw two TD’s on consecutive drives, the first was a 12-yard hook up with Hersey and then a 72-yard bomb to Backert. That pulled Lancaster to within eight points. That’s all the scoring the Legends would muster though.
Ward added another TD late, a 26-yard TD run that was seen on ESPN later that evening rounded out the scoring.
“We lost to a great team,” Rupp said. “Our guys though played till the end, they left it all out there and I’m so proud of them.”
Many of those that made the trip stayed late to offer congratulations to the Lancaster football team. There were a lot of tears as you would expect but also some smiles. Losing in a championship game stings. Especially when it’s also the last time that you will ever suit up with your teammates. Many of these players started out in little league and grew up together on the football field.
Mansell was taking the loss especially hard and wore his emotions as well as Ben Damiani. But both were able to compose themselves for a moment to share the same sentiments. They talked about how much they loved one another and how hard they had all worked to make it as far as they did. The countless hours in the weight room or in film even when coaches weren’t around. “These are my brothers,” said Mansell.
They may not realize it yet but they walked out of the Carrier Dome Sunday night with a lifetime of memories. And that’s as good as any win in my book. Now they’re Legends.