Breaking down Divison I (or at least trying to...)
After months of conjecture, we finally start to receive some answers Friday. YAIAA Division I play will begin, kick-starting what looks like the most balanced, wide-open division race in recent memory. Since the summer (and for some of us, longer than that), we've been trying to analyze and project how this muddled division will pan out. Now, the games will decide. Here's a mid-season primer on each of the six Division I teams, in order of record. At the end, I offer up my prediction of who will walk away with the division crown. Hope you enjoy... THE TEAMSDALLASTOWN (5-0)Pros: The defense. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the division in points allowed, with 12.2 per game. And if it forces more turnovers (six takeaways so far), this unit could be even better. Dallastown has speed all over the field, from Andrew Heird in the defensive backfield, to Ben Kline and George Christas at linebacker, to Bobby Esiaba at defensive end. Kline leads the team with 65 tackles, while Esiaba has 50 tackles and four sacks. On offense, Dallastown has an experienced and accurate quarterback in senior Josh Luckenbaugh. His 57.1 completion percentage is second among YAIAA quarterbacks. Cons: My main concern coming into the season was whether the Wildcats could score enough. And while offense has been decent, it has also been spotty. Dallastown has 1,335 yards of total offense this year, which ranks fifth out of the division's six teams. The Wildcats are more of a ball-control team, so they aren't going to put up sky-high yardage totals. But there is certainly room here to get better. RED LION (4-1)Pros: This offense is electric. Tanner Klinefelter has the highest completion percentage of any YAIAA quarterback (63.5 percent), and has taken advantage of talented senior receivers Branden Kessler and Joe Baublitz. Kessler is second in the league in receiving yards, with 394. Red Lion hasn't quite run the ball as well as they would have liked, but they have capable backs, in seniors Jeremy Knaub and Mike Grey and sophomore James Milton. On defense, the Lions have forced 11 turnovers, good for a plus-5 ratio. Nine different Red Lion players have recorded at least half a sack. Cons: I wonder a bit how much that defense has been tested. Red Lion has been pretty solid since allowing 45 points in an opening night loss to Cumberland Valley, but the Lions' last three opponents -- Carlisle, Kennard-Dale and New Oxford -- are hardly offensive juggernauts. With its size along the offensive line, you would think Red Lion would be running the ball a bit more effectively by now. If the Lions can fine-tune that ground game, this offense will be really, really scary. CENTRAL YORK (3-2)Pros: Defense, defense, defense. The Panthers always put pressure on opponents, but they've done so even more this year. The defense's 14-quarter scoreless streak is still in tact heading into Friday. This defense is young (nine of 11 starters are underclassmen), but deep and very, very fast. Senior linebacker Chris Englar leads the team in tackles with 59, while junior Kevin O'Grady has a team-high 4.5 sacks. Junior Jalil Ford and sophomore Marquis Fells give Central's secondary plenty of speed and athleticism. Cons: Simply, the Panthers need to move the ball more. Their 1,032 total yards (barely 200 a game) is worst in Division I. Central may have found an answer at running back in Fells, who has topped 100 yards the last two games. Ford is a weapon at wide receiver, but has been mostly neutralized since a 111-yard outing in Week 1. Brandon Baker (28-67, 341 yards, 2 TDs, 6 INTs) needs to be more efficient at quarterback. On defense, Central has feasted mostly on weaker competition, in the form of Hempfield, New Oxford and Susquehannock. SOUTH WESTERN (3-2)Pros: The Mustangs Wing-T offense has really moved the ball this year. South Western's 1,944 total yards are tops in Division I, and Littlestown is the only team in the YAIAA with more yards. Jeff Hacker (552 yards, 5 TDs) and Mike Felton (416, 9) are the best tandem of backs in the division. Felton is a big-play waiting to happen, having averaged 9.4 yards per touch. He's also the team's leading receiver, with 202 yards on 12 catches. On defense, Jake Shaffer and Ryan Sexton provide a one-two punch at linebacker, while six different Mustangs have an interception this year. Cons: The defense needs to tighten up a bit. It's allowed 19.8 points per game so far. That defense hasn't been helped by South Western's minus-six turnover ratio. The Mustangs had six turnovers alone last week against West York. Quarterback Jesse Good has had some good moments, but threw three interceptions last week. Can he protect the ball better in division play? SPRING GROVE (3-2)Pros: This team is loaded with experience, including 24 seniors. The Rockets don't have many superstars, but they work together as a unit. Senior Neal Grudi is in his second full year starting at quarterback, and has a pair of solid receivers in Ben Reigart and Keith Stambaugh. Joshua Slate leads the team in rushing (495 yards, 7 TDs) and has two interceptions. Max Ruby has 10 sacks, including at least one in each game. As a group, the defense has shutout two teams this year. Spring Grove also will have a special teams edge in almost every game, with Reigart and Stambaugh at kicker and punter, respectively. Cons: The Rockets haven't finished games well. In each of its two losses -- to Susquehanna Township and West York -- Spring Grove coughed up fourth quarter leads. Experience is one thing, but as games wear on, size and athletic talent tend to take over. No one is saying Spring Grove doesn't have those things, just that they need to show them in the fourth quarter. Grudi has a great arm, but his completion percentage is still lagging at 43 percent. The senior has done a good job cutting down on his interceptions. Can Slate continue to handle the heavy load at tailback? Who gets the ball late when the game is one the line? WILLIAM PENN (3-2)Pros: Absolutely loaded at the skill positions. Kelvin Parker is a constant big play threat at quarterback, where he seems to have settled back at. He leads the team in rushing yards (416), and is coming off an 11-for-18, 167-yard passing outing. Senior Tim Hibner has been a pleasant surprise at tailback, and is a hard, north-south rusher. Jordan Zackery is small (5-foot-6, 141 pounds) but can produce a big play at any moment at receiver or in the defensive secondary. Senors Kahlil Thompson and Steffonte Doby are also versatile weapons. The defense, meanwhile, has produced 11 turnovers. Cons: Turnovers aside, that defense has struggled mightily. Allowing 37.8 points per game is not going to get things done. The tackling in general needs to improve. Both the offensive and defensive lines are thin, and though improving, have not created enough leverage at the line of scrimmage. In its two games against teams with winning records -- J.P. McCaskey and Harrisburg -- the Bearcats have been outscored 94-42 and allowed 852 combined yards. Last week against Dover, William Penn allowed 412 rushing yards in a last-second, 45-42 win. Can this defense get stops when it needs it? And can the Bearcats put four whole quarters together? ********* And now, prediction time. Honestly, I wouldn't be shocked to see two -- or even three -- teams share the division title. It seems like that kind of year. I don't think anybody goes unbeaten through this division. That said, if you put a gun to my head and made me pick a team, I'd go with Dallastown (I say this having not seen Red Lion yet this year, admittedly a flaw in the selection process). I just think the Wildcats' defense is good enough to keep them in every game, and that offense should open up and get better as the season goes on. This team won't light up too many scoreboards, but it will control the ball, eat up the clock and wear teams down. Dallastown also may have the best player in the area in Ben Kline, which doesn't hurt. All that said, I think Red Lion and Spring Grove are right there. And Central is enticing to me just because of its defense. In other words, ask me again in two or three weeks, and my pick might be different.