ALLENTOWN – Control what you can control. That has been the message Allentown High School football coach Andrew Lachenmayer has been preaching to his players this fall.
The Redbirds (1-3) are experiencing a football season unlike any other as they deal with the protocols necessary to play during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and having to play all of their games on the road while a synthetic turf field is being installed at the Allentown High School football stadium.
Being road warriors week in and week out is difficult, Lachenmayer said, but the second-year coach said his players are taking on the challenge and are just happy to have the chance to play football this year.
“We are very grateful to have some sort of normalcy with having a football season,” he said. “The players understand the seriousness of what is going on and they understand what has to be done to have a season. They are all on board.”
Allentown is led by four-year starting quarterback Dan Merkel, who added another milestone to his career on Oct. 16 against Notre Dame High School of Lawrenceville.
Needing 57 yards to become the all-time passing yardage leader in the history of the Colonial Valley Conference, Merkel threw for 169 yards to break the mark of 5,048 yards set by West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South’s Connor Farrell.
Merkel ended the game with 5,161 career passing yards.
After Merkel broke the record during the game, Lachenmayer congratulated his quarterback on the sideline. The competitor and team player Merkel is showed when he was more concerned about what the Redbirds had to do to beat Notre Dame than bask in his accomplishment.
Merkel threw for three touchdowns and rushed for a touchdown in Allentown’s 45-34 loss to Notre Dame. In addition to passing for 169 yards, Merkel rushed for 221 yards.
After having time to reflect on his accomplishment, Merkel said the passing record is a “cool thing” to have, but he said his main focus is trying to help Allentown win.
The senior credited his passing record to the hard work all of his teammates have put in on the field during his career and said there would be no record without their help.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without my offensive line and the great receivers I have had,” Merkel said. “It’s a team effort. It’s not just me who got the record, it was everyone I have played with throughout the years.”
Through three games, Merkel had thrown five touchdown passes, amassed 530 passing yards, 353 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Senior Ramsey Ben Flah helped Merkel become the conference’s all-time passing yardage leader with a 19-yard catch in the first quarter against Notre Dame.
Ben Flah, who has played football with Merkel since they were in seventh grade, was happy to help Merkel break the record and said he is proud of his quarterback.
Through three games, Ben Flah had eight catches for 156 yards and a touchdown.
The quarterback and wide receiver duo are the leaders of a young and inexperienced squad. After helping the Redbirds reach the state playoffs during the last three seasons, the two seniors have taken on leadership roles in 2020 to help bring along the younger players.
Junior Jake Raff has stepped up into a bigger role this season at wide receiver and had 10 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns through three games. Senior Claudius Mbachu has also seized the opportunity with more playing time at wide receiver. He had six catches for 74 yards through three games.
Newcomer C.J. Hackett caught a touchdown pass and rushed for a touchdown, while freshman Daniel Cruz rushed for 183 yards through through the squad’s first three games.
In the trenches, three-year starter senior Adian Benjamin anchors an offensive line that features sophomore Luke Cox and juniors Mike Kulpa, Jake Diblasio and Jake Mangrella.
Ben Flah and senior Nick DeFelice are the leaders of the Allentown defense, both lining up in the secondary. DeFelice is also the team’s placekicker.
Juniors Jake Searing and A.J. Blitz return experience at linebacker.
“We are trying to keep the intensity up from the previous years and keep the attitude of Allentown going,” Ben Flah said.
On Oct. 23, the Redbirds scored their first victory of the 2020 season as they defeated Lawrence High School, 28-14. Merkel threw for 202 yards and rushed for two touchdowns. Cruz rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
After seeing other high school football programs being shut down because of the coronavirus, Allentown’s players are doing everything they can to remain healthy and to stay on the field.
“We want to be as careful as possible in order to stay out there each week to let the seniors get one last chance on the field and to let the younger players get experience at the varsity level,” Merkel said.
“We are thankful for every second we are on the field together. We have a lot of talent. A lot of plays have been one key block or one key tackle away from having a really good play. We just have to put it together for one good game and keep doing that each week and we will start winning some games,” the Redbirds’ quarterback said prior to the team’s victory over Lawrence.