Central York knows what a blocked punt can do to a team. The Panthers suffered from one early this season. They celebrated because of one Friday night.
Sophomore Elzir Stroman's block of a Dallastown punt led to Central's first touchdown, and a Dylan Hose-led offense did the rest to plant the Panthers alone atop the YAIAA Division I football standings during their homecoming game. The 17-7 win knocked visiting Dallastown (6-2, 2-1) back into a pack chasing Central (6-2, 3-0), which plays Red Lion (4-4, 2-1) at home and William Penn (4-4, 1-2) on the road to complete its regular season.
"It feels really good," Hose said upon entering the locker room amid screaming teammates. "This gives us a lot of momentum for the rest of the season."
And likely the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs.
Central entered this showdown ninth in the district ratings, close to a top-eight spot that would guarantee a first-round home game. The points Central will garner from Friday's win against Dallastown -- which was ranked fourth in the same class -- should push the Panthers into that spot.
Although both teams are vying for home playoff games with their last two league games, Central coach Brad Livingston was not ready to consider the league title a foregone conclusion.
"I don't know if we're in control of anything," he said. "We have Red Lion, and what we're in control of is preparing for that."
In fact, the Panthers' final home game next week will have YAIAA Division I stakes because the Lions are only a game behind. Dallastown has Spring Grove (5-3, 1-2) at home before rival Red Lion in Week 10.
Dallastown coach Kevin Myers faced a deflated team after Friday's loss and tried to pick his players up with words of encouragement. He blamed himself for the result and commended his team for its effort. His task in the coming week could be more psychological with the sense a division title might have slipped away.
"This game can't beat us two weeks in a row, so we're going to have to get over it," Myers said. "We're going to have to do a better job of coaching them up."
What Myers could not prepare for was Stroman, Central York's sophomore edge rusher, on punt returns.
In Central's Week 2 game at Cumberland Valley, which sits third in the district rankings, a blocked punt proved pivotal in the Panthers' 21-7 loss. On Friday night, after forcing Dallastown into a three-and-out on its first possession, Stroman's block of a Nick Sutton punt left the Panthers just 18 yards from scoring a touchdown.
"It's just set up for me to get the block, and we executed it perfectly," said Stroman, who rushed in to blindside Sutton from his right.
In a scoreless game, Hose and running back Breaun Randle took care of the rest to get Central on the scoreboard. Hose wound up finding tight end Robert Romey, who turned around for a leaping catch near the side of the end zone, for a 13-yard touchdown.
Dallastown responded in the second quarter as Andrew Henry hit his tight end Drew Romesberg on a fourth-and-3 play at the Central 33. In an instant, all of Central's momentum and dominance evaporated.
Hose hit Zane Knaub on the following drive with the clock ticking down to the final minute of the first half. Last week, Hose and Knaub hooked up for just more than 200 yards through the air. On this night, with a third-and-8 near midfield, they avoided a need to punt by connecting on a 46-yard play to the 9.
The next play called was a tricky one.
Myers said his team had seen it in the scouting report, but it just was not recognized in time.
Hose pitched to Randle, as he does more often than not, but Randle instead gave the ball to sophomore backup quarterback Nik Strine. In what appeared as a reverse, with Strine rolling back to his right, Hose had sprinted toward the end zone on a wheel route. Before Dallastown could adjust, Hose slid to make a catch and give the Panthers back their lead for good.
"Right when I handed the ball to Breaun, I saw the whole defense flow that way," Hose said. "I'm thinking, 'Oh man, he's throwing it to me.'"
Livingston said it was the "about" the third time Central ran the play this season. He has developed a knack for using Strine, whether it be under center or elsewhere. When Central won its 27-26 home game two weeks ago against Spring Grove, Livingston thought the use of Strine under center forced the Rockets to play back and respect the sophomore's arm strength. In that sequence, Randle rushed five times for 80 yards and the winning touchdown.
Against Dallastown, he ran to dissolve time from the clock.
Central opened the fourth quarter one play into a drive that lasted 10 plays before a punt and left only 6:42 on the clock when Dallastown retook possession. Randle ran six times for 33 yards in that instance. He finished with 83 yards on 21 carries, and helped the Panthers chew up the remaining 3:38 after the defense stopped Robert Catchings a yard short of a first down at midfield.
"This was the most complete game I've seen us play in a couple years," Livingston said. "We managed the hype very well and controlled our emotions."
Now they control their path to the Division I title and, likely, Week 11.
Dallastown 0 7 0 0 -- 7
Central 7 7 3 0 -- 17
CY -- Robert Romey 13 pass from Dylan Hose (Kyle Smith kick), 3:41.
Dt -- Drew Romesberg 33 pass from Andrew Henry (McKinley Curran kick), 3:33.
CY -- Hose 9 pass from Nik Strine (Smith kick), 0:50.
CY -- Smith 30 FG, 1:29.
First downs 6 14
Rushes-yards 25-61 43-149
Passing 7-12-0 11-20-0
Passing yards 47 134
Total yards 108 283
Punts 6-28.5 3-27.6
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-15 6-35
Rushing -- Dt, Robert Catchings 9-19, Henry 12-(-3), Malik Lewis 1-8, Addison Quinones 2-33, Dezmond Jones 1-4. CY, Breaun Randle 21-83, Hose 17-43, Zach Steffee 4-15, Zane Knaub 1-8.
Passing -- Dt, Henry 7-12-0-47. CY, Hose 10-19-0-125, Strine 1-1-0-9.
Receiving -- Dt, Romesberg 3-37, Lewis 3-7, Catchings 1-3. CY, Knaub 4-57, Randle 2-33, Zach Emswiler 2-20, Romey 2-15, Hose 1-9.