Written by Brian Rippy

Reading Eagle Correspondent

MANHEIM — Only 2 yards stood between Manheim Central and the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 championship.

But between that short distance and the goal line stood 11 Exeter defenders, determined to complete an unbeaten regular season Friday night and clinch the league championship.

“We just knew somebody had to come up and make a stop,” Exeter senior midfielder Lucas Palange said.

Nathan Pashley made a life-saving interception in the end zone in the final minute as Exeter held on for a 21-17 victory over Manheim Central in a battle of teams that advanced to the high school football regular-season finale at Elden Rethew Stadium with excellent indicators.

“It all came down to this game,” Pashley said. “I had to step up for the team to try and get this team to an undefeated season.”

It was the final of three straight big defensive plays that preserved the Eagles (6-0, 10-0) victory over the Barons (5-1, 9-1), ending Exeter’s first season in the LL.

Trailing 21-17, Manheim Central took over at its own 21 with 3:35 left. A 40-yard pass to Aaron Enterline from Zach Hahn put the ball at the Exeter 2 with about a minute left.

On first down, Kyle Lash broke through the line of scrimmage and dropped star running back Brycen Armold for a 3-yard loss. On the next play, Palange sacked Hahn for a 10-yard loss on the 15th.

That set the stage for Pashley, who tried to defend against Aaron Enterline all night. The 6-2 Enterline had five receptions for 84 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

But when the Barons went looking for Enterline with the game on the line, Pashley stepped up to make the title-clinching interception.

“When I turned around and saw Pash make a pick on the next play (after the sack), I was ecstatic,” Palange said. “It’s just amazing for our program. I’m just happy that we’re 10-0 at this point and won the section championship.”

Pashley also made a key play early in the second half, returning a punt 42 yards that put Exeter in midfield. From there, Richie Carstien and the Exeter attack did the rest.

Carstien finished with 144 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. He rushed six times for 37 yards during the final drive, including a 3-yarder for a touchdown with 7:25 left in the third quarter that gave the Eagles a 21-17 win.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Carstien said. “I know me and my teammates got it. We can beat anyone if we put in the effort and work.”

Karstien and the Eagles looked easy early on. After a 3rd-and-out by Manheim Central, Exeter drove 87 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Carstien had 10 carries for 77 yards on the opening drive and capped that march with a 6-yard TD run.

Manheim Central responded by driving to the Exeter 3, but had to settle for Dylan Neff’s 20-yard field goal.

In the second quarter, the Eagles had problems. Hahn found Enterline in the back of the end zone on fourth down for their 21-yard TD connection to give Manheim Central a 10-7 lead.

After the Barons stopped Exeter’s ensuing drive, Enterline returned the punt 73 yards for a touchdown to put Manheim Central up 17-7.

Things looked even worse when Exeter’s starting quarterback, Mason Rotelli, was injured on the next play from a scrimmage after taking a hard hit while trying to fumble a fumble.

That forced receiver Joey Schlaffer to move to quarterback. On the next play, he sprinted 70 yards to the end zone to cut Manheim Central’s lead to three.

“He’s definitely been a spark for us,” Exeter coach Matt Bauer said of Schlaffer. “It definitely gave us the momentum back.”

Rotelli came back, but it was Exeter’s defense that sealed the win, keeping the Barons’ high scores off the scoreboard in the second half. Manheim Central, which entered the game averaging over 55 points per game, was limited to one rushing touchdown and 190 yards of total offense.

“Our kids would not be denied,” Bauer said. “Our defense put up a tough fight all night. They had some key punt drives that really put us in a hole and our defense continued to struggle. Our kids responded to adversity and did what they needed to do.”