Dallastown linebacker Jonah Mays chases down a teammate as the Wildcats prepare for their Friday night game against West York.
Dallastown linebacker Jonah Mays chases down a teammate as the Wildcats prepare for their Friday night game against West York. (JOHN PAVONCELLO -- jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

Missed tackles.

Dallastown head coach Kevin Myers saw so many of them last season that he made improved tackling the team's No. 1 priority this season.

"We got hats (helmets) to the ball, but we couldn't bring the other guys down," Myers said.

The failure to consistently finish tackles wasn't the sole reason that the Wildcats lost three more games than they won in 2012. But it definitely played a part in the 4-7 finish.

Myers and his assistants stressed wrapping up and bringing down runners in practices and preseason scrimmages.

It appears that the players got the message.

Dallastown held Lancaster Catholic to five first downs and 138 total yards in handing the Crusaders a 21-6 defeat in last week's season-opening game for both teams.

"Things clicked defensively, and we tackled well," Myers said. "Jonah (Mays), Drew (Romesberg), Jordan (Woods) and Nick (Sutton), four of our front eight from last year, are back. Addison Quinones has been doing a nice job in the secondary, and we've rotated four or five guys at defensive tackle. Matt Gaynor has been stepping into that role for us."

Mays was a first-team York-Adams Division I Coaches' All-Star Team selection at linebacker last season, and Woods earned a first-team berth at defensive tackle. Sutton gained a first-team nod at punter.

"The chemistry is better this year, and we're talking more out there," Mays said. "We're stressing, 'just make the tackle, don't give up the big run.' Jordan (Woods), he's definitely taking care of the guards and tackles, and that gives the linebackers more time to read the play and make the tackle."

While the defense was consistent throughout the opener, the offense played well in the first half, but struggled in the second half.

"We had missed assignments," Myers said. "You can't come out with 41 yards (of offense) and expect to win ballgames."

You can if your defense plays the way it did on Friday night, however.

Of course, the offense features almost as many returning starters as the defense (six vs. seven). So, the second-half struggle could be just a distant memory later this season.

Dallastown quarterback Andrew Henry drops back to pass as the Wildcats prepare for their Friday night game against West York.
Dallastown quarterback Andrew Henry drops back to pass as the Wildcats prepare for their Friday night game against West York. (JOHN PAVONCELLO -- jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

Andrew Henry returns at quarterback after passing for 1,194 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushing for 399 yards in 2012. Rob Catchings (1,004 rushing yards) and Malik Lewis (22 receptions for 312 yards) are also back.

The presence of so many veterans on both sides of the ball provides the Wildcats with hope that 2013 will be their season in Division I.

"We (the seniors) haven't had a winning season (4-7 the past two seasons), and we want to change that," Mays said. "We have the talent to do it."

Before getting into Division I play, the Wildcats have four non-division games beginning on Friday night with West York. The Bulldogs edged the Wildcats by two points last year and eight points in 2011.

"That was just heart-breaking last year," Mays said. "We want to redeem ourselves."

West York is coming off a 41-6 loss to Central York, but that only intensified Myers' concern about the upcoming game.

"I don't know that there has ever been a game that I was more concerned about playing," he said. "I know Ron Miller (West York's head coach) will have those guys ready to play. Our kids, though, remember last year, and they know the battles they've had with West York over the years."

-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin da@yorkdispatch.com.