Undefeated Lions enter playoffs ready for CD East
Red Lion offensive line has anchored the Lions' first undefeated regular season since 1974. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
The sun was setting behind the Horn Field press box at Red Lion High School on Thursday, and head coach Jesse Shay stood on the sideline as his team practiced at midfield.
Shay had a look of concern as the Lions prepared for it's District 3 Class 6A first-round game against Central Dauphin East.
"I'm the worrier around here," Shay said.
What could be at forefront of the coach's mind?
"Their speed," Shay said. "That's what's keeping me up at night."
The Panthers are known to have athletes at the skill positions and size on the line. They can also pile up points — CD East has topped the 30-point plateau four times this year, including two 38-point showings and a 41-point performance.
Shay was quick to point out the Panthers' 6-4 record as deceiving: The team plays good competition in the Mid Penn Commonwealth Division, which Shay is familiar with from his coaching days at Bishop McDevitt.
Shay said senior running back Tyshaun Pollard in particular caught his eye during this week's preparation.
But the head coach is also realistic about his program's position.
The Lions, after all, have been a standout team this season, holding a perfect 10-0 record. And Shay knows few things separate the No. 3-seeded Lions and the No. 6-seeded Panthers this time of year.
"Eight teams are making the playoffs," the head coach pointed out. "There's no bad teams left. We put ourselves in a position where we get to host one."
And certainly the Lions don't plan to change their identity at this juncture of the season. The team has leaned heavily on its offensive line and the running ability of back Dylan Gurreri and quarterback Sam Emig.
While Shay said the Lions could incorporate a few "wrinkles" in the game plan, he added "we are who we are."
"I never believed trying to fundamentally change who we are just because you make the playoffs," he said. "We're going to trust the kids who have been opening holes for us all year."
Shay added he feels good about the Lions' health entering the postseason. That includes right tackle Steve Tierney, who went down last week against Dallastown with an apparent leg injury. Shay, however, said Tierney is going to play Friday.
"Knock on wood," Shay said. "You know, we're in Week 14 of the season (counting preseason games). Nobody's healthy this time of year, but we feel good about where we are."
Then, just before rejoining practice, Shay closed by offering a word of caution to those doubting the Lions' 10-0 mark.
"I wouldn't bet against us," he said.
If you go
Who: Central Dauphin East at Red Lion
What: District 3 Class 6A tournament, first round
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Horn Field, Red Lion