Breaking down Dover's 3-0 start
OK everybody, time for a history lesson. Don't worry, this won't take long.
Last year, three YAIAA football rebounded from forgettable 2008 seasons to start 3-0 in 2009. Those teams were Eastern York, New Oxford and Spring Grove. In fact, in the lead up to Week 4, I wrote a big story about those three teams and how they had turned their fortunes around.
By the end of the season, exactly one of those teams had a winning record. Spring Grove finished 6-5. New Oxford made the triple-A district playoffs but finished 5-6 after a first-round thumping by Susquehanna Township. Eastern York ended up 5-5 and missed out on districts.
So why bring this up?
In my weekly notes column this morning, I took a peek at Dover, which has been the surprise of the YAIAA so far this year. After failing to win a game last year, the Eagles are 3-0 heading into Friday's home clash with Spring Grove.
But among the local football-watching populace, not all seem convinced by Dover's perfect start. Granted, the Eagles' three victims so far -- Hanover, Garden Spot and Red Land -- have a combined record of 2-7. All seem to be mired in rebuilding seasons.
So are the Eagles for real, a team capable of giving West York a run in Division II? Or will they sink back to the pack, as we saw last year?
The soft-schedule argument (Dover also moved down to Division II this year) is a fair one, something Eagles coach Bill Miller all but acknowledged on Wednesday.
"The schedule change helps. You can't deny that," Miller said. "It's actually funny, now you have people say now our schedule is too weak, but there wasn't a whole lot sympathy when we were opening with Littlestown, (Delone Catholic) and (Bermudian Springs), and then playing our Division I schedule (last year). There wasn't a whole lot of sympathy there."
The combined record of Dover's three non-league opponents in 2008: 26-9. Certainly the caliber of teams the Eagles played last year didn't help in their crawl to 0-10.
"You play the schedule you have," Miller added. "Looking at it, Garden Spot, they're only two years removed from a district run. ... Red Land is not that far removed from a district championship."
Iffy schedule aside, you have to give the Eagles style points for just how dominant they've been in those three wins. Dover has outscored opponents by a combined 118-31, behind an imposing offensive line (which just lost senior captain Jeramiah Middleton for at least a few weeks with a broken wrist) and a versatile ground game.
At Dover practice Wednesday, I was struck with just how big some of Dover's players are. The Eagles' roster isn't very long (just 39 players, four of which are kickers), but Miller has plenty of large bodies at his disposal and more than enough capable ball-carriers. Five different Dover players have rushed for touchdowns this year.
That right-at-you style could play well in Division II, a league full of physical teams. Dover has more than enough size to matchup with teams like Kennard-Dale, Susquehannock and New Oxford.
And when you look at it, are those teams (plush Northeastern) that much better than Red Land or Garden Spot? I don't know the answer, it's just a thought. Ultimately, the success or failure of Dover's season could hinge on how it fares against those divisional opponents. If the Eagles can get to 6-4, that might be enough to get them to the district playoffs, something that program hasn't done since 1997.
Ultimately, the next few weeks will reveal just how good these Eagles are. Miller talked about each of the next four games presenting a challenge for his team. Dover plays, in order: Spring Grove, William Penn, Kennard-Dale and West York.