Can Eastern York end its 26-year title drought?
It's been 26 seasons since Eastern York last held a YAIAA division championship in football.
The Golden Knights won the 1990 YAIAA Division II title with a 4-1-1 record and finished 7-3-1 overall. The season before, they were five-way champs for the title. Those are their only two championships dating to 1960.
Friday's 26-6 win against Kennard-Dale means Eastern York (4-4, 4-1 Division II) will have an opportunity to play for at least half of this year's Division II championship when the Knights host York Suburban (7-2, 4-0 Division II) in the Nov. 4 season finale.
"We are so excited," said senior Jimmy Kurnik. "We want to get this division championship more than anything."
If the Trojans defeat visiting Gettysburg this week, defending Division II champ York Suburban guarantees itself at least half of this fall's Division II pie. Meanwhile, a York Suburban loss on Friday would create a winner-take-all scenario for Division II in the last week of the regular season.
"It is a little hard to believe," said sophomore quarterback Seth Bernstein. "You never think it might happen after that start, but we buckled down and said, 'Let's go win this thing.'"
Pretty remarkable for an Eastern York squad that began the season 0-3 with losses at Lampeter-Strasburg, York Tech and at home against Littlestown.
"We imagined it," said Golden Knights coach Jeff Mesich, who was six years old the last time Eastern York won a Division II championship. "But football players and coaches can be a bit overly optimistic sometimes. The percentages of (playing for a divisional championship) were not good at that point, but none of those games were division games."
After the loss to Littlestown, the Golden Knights rebounded with victories against Division II foes West York, Dover and Gettysburg before suffering a tough loss at Susquehannock on Oct. 14.
"I think a couple of things happened," Mesich said. "We got comfortable with the offensive and defensive systems we put in, a bunch of kids got adjusted to playing and they began playing better and the biggest thing was that we cut down on the mistakes and penalties."
Eastern York has done it with Bernstein and a junior running back in Logan Kline, along with seniors Keegan Corwell and Kurnik, at the skill positions.
Bernstein is the league's No. 2 rushing quarterback this fall with more than 700 yards. He has scored eight touchdowns on the ground while throwing for four.
"I think we just connected as a team," Bernstein said. "The offense clicked and everybody just got it. I think it was the Littlestown game. Even though we lost (18-14) at the end, everything felt like it clicked. We got it."
Kline and Corwell are part of a backfield that has run for almost 220 yards per game.
And Kurnik has proved to be a dangerous return man as well as receiver. He has just 12 receptions this season, but four have gone for touchdowns. Kurnik also capably filled in for Bernstein at quarterback in the win against Kennard-Dale.
"(Kurnik) has done everything we've asked," Mesich said. "He could probably lead the league in receiving if we played that way. This week, I sent him a text on Sunday night and asked him if he was ready to play quarterback (against Kennard-Dale) and he replied with, 'Coach, whatever you need.'"
And it hasn't just been Eastern's offense. The Golden Knights defense, led during Friday's win by junior linebacker Brennen Shenk and senior lineman Wyatt Smith, has allowed just 43 points in its four Division II wins.
"For several weeks, we were getting four or five turnovers a game," Mesich said. "Our first win, at West York, I think we got the ball inside their 30 three times. That makes things a lot easier."