Ten must-see YAIAA football games in 2016
Don't look now, but high school football practices get started in less than a month. That means the season is less than two months away — and we couldn't be more excited about that fact.
There's so much to look forward to, including a new playoff format, new coaches, tense rivalries, teams looking to continue unprecedented success and squads looking to climb back up the ladder after down years.
Taking a glimpse at the schedules, let's take a look at the 10 games that jump off the page:
Central York at West York, Sept. 2
There are several intriguing Week 1 games, but none more intriguing than this one.
The rivalry factor always makes this game exciting, but there are more reasons to pay attention to this game than usual. Most notably, it's the first game Central York will play without Brad Livingston on the sidelines in more than four decades. Josh Oswalt comes over from Carlisle to lead the Panthers.
Both teams will want to get off to fast starts after down seasons last year. West York went 5-5 after winning Division II in 2014, and Central York went 3-7.
Northeastern at York Suburban, Sept. 9
Both teams saw unprecedented success last fall, as the Trojans won YAIAA Division II for the first time in nearly three decades and the Bobcats went 8-2 and won a playoff game for the first time in program history.
Northeastern returns many key players from last year's team, while Suburban loses record-setting quarterback Thomas Merkle and league receiving leader Collin Mailman.
This Week 2 game gives us a chance to see which of these teams is most on track to repeat that success this season. Northeastern won last year's meeting, 31-24.
Delone Catholic at New Oxford, Sept. 16
It's been a while since these two teams matched up on the gridiron, so there will plenty of excitement on both sides. Delone Catholic is situated inside the Conewago Valley School District, and this revived rivalry also offers public vs. private and big school vs. small school intensity.
This will also be the third game for new New Oxford coach Greg Bowman, who looks to turn the Colonials program around the way he did Northern York, as he led the Polar Bears to the second round of the District 3 playoffs last year.
The Squires lost just six players to graduation and would love to pick up a signature win against a Division I opponent the week before the start of divisional play.
Dover at Eastern York, Sept. 30
It's easy to forget the Eagles were 4-2 and sitting in position to possibly win YAIAA Division II at one point last season. The Golden Knights, on the other hand, were considered one of the division favorites early last fall.
Injuries derailed promising seasons for both teams, as Dover finished the year on a four-game losing streak and Eastern York finished 1-5 in the division.
This year's game comes on the second week of divisional play, giving the winner a chance to step back into the title picture.
Dallastown at Northeastern, Oct. 7
If Northeastern is going to win a YAIAA Division I championship, this is the game that could really put that chase on the map. Dallastown has lost just two divisional games over the past three seasons, including going 6-1 and winning the crown last year.
The Bobcats bring back a lot of experience, and are one of the only teams returning a starting quarterback — Shannon Valenti completed 45.5 percent of his passes last year, throwing 14 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
Last year's game was one of the best of the year, as the Wildcats scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 15-12.
Susquehannock at West York, Oct. 14
This was one of the most exciting games of last season, with the Bulldogs scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns and holding on to spoil the Warriors' homecoming.
Susquehannock made big strides in 2015 under first-year head coach Steve Wiles, going 5-5. The Warriors had won more than one game just once since 2010.
Division II seems to be wide open, so this game could play big in determining the division champion.
Bermudian Springs at York Catholic, Oct. 21
Along with Delone Catholic, the Eagles and Fighting Irish are the most experienced teams in Division III. Experience doesn't always equal success, but if it does for these teams this game will go a long way toward deciding the division champion.
York Catholic returns most of a team that went to the District 3 Class A title game last season, and could be considered the early favorite in the division. Bermudian Springs went 5-5 last year (after starting 0-4), ending a run of dominance that saw it win 39 of 40 regular season games in the four years prior.
Adding to the intensity of this game will be the memory of last year's game, which Bermudian Springs won 20-17 on a touchdown throw by backup quarterback Tristan Hoke with 15 seconds left.
Biglerville at Hanover, Oct. 28
You can bet the Nighthawks have this game circled on the schedule after suffering it's only two losses of last year to the Canners. The second loss came in the first round of the District 3 Class AA playoffs on Hanover's home field.
Both teams have a lot of talent to replace, but if either or both teams can carry last year's momentum into this year, this late-season game could have major division title or playoff implications.
Most of the players who played in last year's game are gone, but the ones who remain will remember the intensity of both of those games last year. Last year's contests had the makings of a new rivalry and this game provides the next chapter.
Spring Grove at South Western, Nov. 4
Players and fans on both sides would tell you this is the best rivalry in the YAIAA, and one can see their point. The two schools are separated by nine miles, and there's a magnificent intensity when they meet on the gridiron, regardless of each team's record.
As if it needs anymore juice, last year's game — a 28-21 upset win by Spring Grove that launched the Rockets into the playoffs and left the Mustangs one win shy of a share of the Division I title — is one that both teams will have on the brain before the opening kickoff.
This game could also have major playoff implications in the first year of the PIAA's new classification format.
Dallastown at Red Lion, Nov. 4
These schools — two of the three biggest in the county — are only separated by three miles.
The Wildcats entered this game undefeated last season, but saw their perfect season end on their homefield by a 26-0 score. It was the fourth-straight win for the Lions, who finished 7-3. Both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The new playoff system could be tough on 6A teams in the YAIAA, so this game will provide a big final-week opportunity to beat a fellow 6A team and make a playoff push.