During 2023, members of LebCo’s six varsity football teams competed hard each week. While the teams had varying results in terms of wins and losses, there was no doubt that each roster showed talent and sportsmanship that made their school communities proud.
The season resulted in three teams making it to the District 3 Playoffs, with ELCO advancing past the first round by soundly defeating Big Spring.
To honor the most accomplished of the individual players who led their teams, we put it out to a vote to gain the insight of the fans and coaches. When all of the votes were tallied, there were several close calls. It is truly tough to rank these very talented athletes, but many answered the call and when voting clearly considered more than just the school the student-athlete attended.
Ultimately, ELCO’s Jake Williams was unanimously selected as the Offensive Player of the Year. Cedar Crest’s Owen Chernich received the nod as the Defensive Player of the Year. In the Rising Star category, which looks at the top sophomores and freshmen, Lebanon’s Malachi Briddell gained the respect of the coaches across the county to take home the top honor in this category.
When all of the votes were considered, the LebCoSports.com selected Williams as the Lebanon County Football MVP for the 2023 Football season.
The full list of nominees can be found here. It is important to recognize that every player nominated is worthy of praise.
One final note: While this process can be somewhat intense, please remember that the voting was done to honor our athletes by drawing attention to the impressive achievements of some of the best. Thank you to everyone who took the time to engage and celebrate these talented young men.
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For any questions, comments, or discrepancies, please reach out to email@example.com.
Offensive Player of the Year / Lebanon County MVP
During his high school career, Jake Williams redefined the running back position at ELCO. After setting the school’s single-season rushing record as a junior with 1,824 yards, the Raiders knew their offensive scheme had to begin with him during his final year before heading to college. The gamble paid off as Williams rushed for 2,402 yards over the course of eleven games. This placed him #2 All-Time in the Lancaster Lebanon League for the most rushing yards in a single season. He also scored 31 touchdowns, with 30 coming via the run game. At a ceremony held on December 7th, Williams was named the Section 4 Player of the Year by the Lions Club.
As the main cog in the ELCO offense, Williams was a major reason that the team went 8-4 and raced by Big Spring, 34-7, in the opening round of the 4A District 3 Playoffs before succumbing to Twin Valley.
Williams rushed for 254 yards in the playoff win and scored three times. This was only one of seven times during the season where Williams rushed for over 200 yards. He rushed for 300+ yards three times, including setting the ELCO single-game rushing record with a 356-yard performance against Columbia. That game provided one of his most impressive runs of the season, an 80-yarder where he was bottled up several times but kept going until he found his way to open space.
Williams is a hard-nosed runner who combines power and speed to bounce off tacklers. While he put in the work and is talented, he is also extremely humble. Any opportunity he gets, he gives credit to his offensive line who became affectionately known as the “Plow Boys ”. Among the members of that unit is Jake’s younger brother, sophomore Paul, who will be a major piece of the ELCO team over the next two years.
At this point, the older Williams must move on from the high school playing field. Though unsure where he will be playing next season, he will have the opportunity to play collegiately. At the time of this article, he has received an official offer from Mercyhurst, a Division II member of the PSAC, and is drawing interest from several other schools. Wherever he lands, he will have a very large group of people cheering for him after having been wowed by his efforts over the past several years.
Fernando Marquez (Cedar Crest / Sr.): Splitting carries in a talented backfield, Marquez asserted himself as one of the region’s top running backs. He carried the ball 152 times for 982 yards. He rumbled his way to 21 touchdowns, from both goal-line situations to breaking several 20+ runs, including a 60-yarder.
Cael Harter (Annville-Cleona / Sr.): The senior rushed for 1,109 yards on 156 carries. He accounted for 13 offensive touchdowns. Harter rushed for 100+ in seven of Annville’s eleven games, including a 212-yard performance against Pequea Valley. Overall, he amassed 1,619 all-purpose yards.
For more information on all the nominees, you can view the nominations by clicking here.
Defensive Player of the Year
Owen Chernich was a key piece of the tough Cedar Crest defense that propelled them to finish with an 8-2 regular season record that earned them a trip into the 6A District 3 Playoffs. Playing defensive back, the senior led the team with 74 tackles. Of those tackles, 26 were solo stops, and 8 were for a loss. Chernich also had 3 interceptions and caused another turnover via a forced fumble.
While he was solid throughout the season, Chernich’s big defensive showcase came during the Cedar Bowl that was played on October 26th. With Lebanon threatening to be more of a challenge than expected, Chernich had two interceptions in the 1st half to turn the tide.
While he was a leader on defense, Chernich was also a valuable member of the Falcon offensive attack as the team’s top option at wide receiver. As a result of his high football IQ, the four-year starter was also called upon to play quarterback late in games, as Cedar Crest needed smart play to close out games.
While Cedar Crest will have trouble replacing Chernich, he will be playing on Saturdays for the next several years. He has already received an offer to join Gettysburg and is expected to receive more invitations in the coming weeks. We wish Chernich the best of luck in his future endeavors, starting with the high school basketball season.
Luke Shaffer (Northern Lebanon / Sr.): As one of the state’s top linebackers, Shaffer capped off an impressive high school career as the leader of the Viking defense with 139 tackles. He had 14 tackles for a loss and collected 2 quarterback sacks. He also forced two fumbles.
Darrian Holloway (Annville-Cleona / Sr.): Playing linebacker for the Dutchmen, the senior was considered the leader of the defensive unit that gave up only 13 points per game in Section 5. Holloway made 104 tackles, including 64 of them that were solo. He had 6 tackles for a loss and twice sacked quarterbacks. He also had an interception and forced two fumbles.
While Lebanon struggled in terms of wins and losses, they cannot be overlooked for having a decent amount of talent on the roster. Among those players was the sophomore Malachi Briddell, who was always a threat to score whenever the Cedars were in possession. During the season, Briddell had 29 receptions for 254 yards. He had 3 touchdown receptions and added a kickoff return for a touchdown against Warwick.
A gifted natural athlete, much of his offensive output came even as teams were planning for him. Though it was only his first year playing at the varsity level, it didn’t take long for other coaches to take note. In Week 1, Briddell caught a pass over the Palmyra defender on his way to finding the end zone. He would have many other highlight reel-worthy plays throughout the course of the season.
The ambidextrous Briddell was also a key two-way player, serving in Lebanon’s defensive secondary alongside his brother, Derrick.
Briddell saw this season as an opportunity to grow in the face of adversity. He has expressed that he is intent on hitting the weight room and putting in the work necessary to become a leader. He will have two more years to compete and will undoubtedly be a key piece of the new coach’s plans. Anyone paying attention is excited to see where Briddell’s ceiling might be, but no one is more excited to find out than Malachi himself.
Paul Williams (ELCO / So.): The sophomore was impressive on both sides of the line for the Raiders. On defense, he had 66 tackles which included 29 solo tackles and 13 tackles for a loss. He also had a fumble recovery. On offense, he was a key blocker for his brother. Williams is already big, strong, and fast. Given his work ethic, he will only become bigger, stronger, and faster.
Braxtin Risser (Palmyra / So.): At running back, the sophomore carried the ball 113 times for 661 yards. Averaging 5.8 yards per carry, he was able to find the end zone 5 times. He will definitely be part of Coach Pavone’s plans for the next two seasons.
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