York Catholic is the only program left standing after a clean sweep Friday night
A clean sweep.
That’s what happened Friday night, when all six YAIAA football teams – Red Lion, Northeastern, Central York, York Suburban, Littlestown and Bermudian Springs – lost their opening round District 3 playoff games.
It was disappointing, but not surprising. Far from it.
First off, the Lions and Bobcats were right in the thick of their games. Those contests – Red Lion’s 13-7 loss to Central Dauphin East and Northeastern’s 25-24 defeat to Cocalico – could have gone either way. Both games were good, even matchups.
But they also didn’t fall in York County’s favor.
I, for one, wanted to see these teams advance. I picked them to win going into the evening, and I'd like to see York produce some winning high school football programs. And I do believe there has been progress in this area.
After all, the Lions were one this year. They were more than just respectable, building a 10-0 record and earning a No. 3 seed – a home playoff game – in the District 3 Class 6A playoffs against CD East.
But the Panthers were a formidable foe, something Red Lion coach Jesse Shay was well aware of entering kickoff. And unfortunately, that’s more than what could be said for many Lions opponents in 2016.
The Lions rolled the opposition this year. Their closest margin of victory was 10 points against Central York – a team that was waxed 55-23 in its District 3 first-round game against Wilson High School.
It’s no knock. Wilson is a great program, and it was hard picturing Central going on the road and winning, let alone competing, in that one.
But it also plays to the point that Red Lion wasn’t pushed this season. Not by rival Dallastown, which was a good team but certainly not a great one. Not throughout the entire YAIAA, for that matter. And not during an out-of-conference schedule that featured Waynesboro, Daniel Boone and Chambersburg, three teams that combined to go 11-20 this year.
In short, one could argue CD East was the best team Red Lion faced all season, and it would be hard to object.
As for the Bobcats' loss to Cocalico – yours truly attended that one. And Northeastern went toe-to-toe with the Eagles.
Northeastern is an emotional team: when things work against them, they appear to battle themselves to some degree; but when the team gets rolling — and all it takes is one big play to turn the tide — the Bobcats feed off that momentum.
That personality trait was evident on both sides of the ledger Friday. Whether it was falling behind 17-7 early on (it took Northeastern a handful of possessions to get settled in against the smash-mouth Eagles veer-option offense); or the team's furious second-half comeback that saw them take a 24-17 lead (on the power of the passing game, and the performance of athletic wide receiver Fred Mulbah), the tempo of this one shifted dramatically throughout the evening.
But Cocalico was bigger and tougher in the trenches (the team didn't attempt more than three passes on the evening), and is more seasoned in such a scenario (head coach Dave Gingrich is a veteran, and the team played for a District 3 Class 3A title in 2014).
They used the power of the running game to drive downfield, scoring a touchdown and the go-ahead two-point conversion with 45 seconds remaining.
A competitive game? Yes. A tough loss to swallow for the Bobcats? No question. But a defeat nonetheless for a program playing just its ninth year of varsity football.
Another local team, York Suburban, may have won eight straight games entering the postseason, but it was against underwhelming competition in YAIAA Division II – and that might be an understatement.
Suburban lost early-season games against York Catholic (which won its District 3 Class 2A championship Saturday evening) and Northeastern before ripping off wins against Columbia (1-8 overall record), Kennard-Dale (0-10) and Northern Lebanon (4-6). They jockeyed for the division championship against the likes of Gettysburg (6-4) and Eastern York (4-6). And divisional foes Dover (4-6), Susquehannock (3-7) and West York (2-8) had down years in 2016.
Playoff time brought a Lampeter-Strasburg opponent and a wakeup call for the Trojans, who fell on their home field 48-0.
Littlestown and Bermudian Springs each lost to quality teams on the road in Friday's first round – the Thunderbolts to 10-0 Middletown (49-14 final score) and the Eagles to Wyomissing (24-7 final).
When the dust settled, a good regular season mark was one thing. And a good playoff showing against increased competition was clearly another.
With that being said, at least we still have York Catholic. The Irish, who won the District 3 Class 2A title on Saturday (in a one-game playoff against Newport, 51-21) will take the field Friday night against Dunmore in the first round of states. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Harman-Geist Memorial Field in Hazleton.