Thoughts from West York-Central York
And in the case of the game I watched, there was a team that answered a lot of questions. Once again, West York came into this season with people questioning how they would replace some of their personnel losses from last season. Once again, the Bulldogs showed that, no matter who seems to graduate, their program continues to churn on.
Here are a few reactions from the Bulldogs' 34-14 win over Central York tonight.
1. Kaden Hepler can play. As I wrote in my weekly notes column this week, West York head coach Ron Miller went into this week with plenty of confidence in his new quarterback. On Friday, Hepler rewarded that belief. His numbers (9-of-11, 191 yards, 3 passing TDs) portrayed a quarterback who played well above his years.
Consider all the factors working against him Friday: Inexperience, a big and energized away crowd, a defense that blitzes more than any other in the area. For Hepler to be that efficient? You don't see that often from a first-time starter.
Miller was predictably ecstatic with his quarterback's performance. "I don't know about you guys, but I think we have a quarterback at West York," he said.
Brett Campbell, who in many ways was the star of the show Friday, said simply: "I don't think he could play any better."
So where do we go from here? Hepler will be continue to be challenged these next four weeks, during which West York faces four more Class AAAA opponents. But he has all the tools to succeed. He has plenty of arm strength, and already throws one of the best deep balls in the area.
We shouldn't hype Hepler up too much after this one performance -- he'll have hiccups at some point. But there's no use denying how impressive he was.
2. The Bulldogs defense should be good. This fact got obscured a bit by West York's offensive outpouring, but Miller's defense looked quite formidable. The Bulldogs stopped the run (Central had 32 yards on 22 carries), forced turnovers (three interceptions) and clamped down on the Panthers as the game wore on. Central had just 56 yards in the second half, and Panthers quarterback Brandon Baker went just 3-for-14 in the final two quarters.
West York graduated some key pieces here, too. Players like linebacker Darion Bundy and Brandon Romeo. But the Bulldogs consistently put pressure on the quarterback and caused havoc on the opposite line of scrimmage.
3. It's hard to emphasize just how important Campbell's kickoff return for a touchdown was. I didn't really get a chance to hammer home this in my game story as much, but Campbell's 91-yard return late in the first quarter was monumental for a West York team that had looked listless up to that point. At the time of that return, the Bulldogs offense had minus-7 total yards. Central, meanwhile, was dominating the field position battle, and had just scored its first touchdown against West York in three meetings. Momentum seemed squarely in the Panthers' corner.
And then, Campbell struck. He caught the ball on the right side, burst up the middle and ran away from the rest of Central's coverage team. (Interesting aside: A flag was thrown on the play, in an area where holding or a block in the back might have been called. It was, however, waved off by the officials.)
"Every time I get the ball on special teams, I feel like I can make a play," Campbell said after the game.
That play kept West York afloat. From there, the teams exchanged touchdowns to close out the first half, before the Bulldogs steamrolled Central in the third quarter.
4. Jalil Ford will be Central's go-to guy. The 6-foot-1 junior receiver was Central top performer on offense, finishing with 8 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for another score. On some occasions, it was easy to see Baker zeroing in on Ford from the very snap of the ball. The Panthers have more than a few capable playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but I'm guessing Ford will be the one keeping opposing coaches up at night before games.
5. Let's not judge Central too much from this one game. Remember last year, when the Panthers looked decidedly less-than-stellar in two losses to start last season? They followed that by reeling off six straight wins and earning a share of the YAIAA Division I title. Central should score points this year -- it has one of the better quarterbacks in the area and a slew of speedy, big-play threats on the field. And though Central's defense got burned for some big plays Friday, you would bet on that unit coming around at some point.
The bigger concern might end up being Central offensive line. That group figured to be a concern coming into the season, and got outplayed by West York on Friday. The Panthers running backs rarely found holes. Baker often found himself under duress, especially late in the game. This group will need to get better as the season goes on. Luckily, they still have time on their side.