When your high school football team is still playing after Daylight Saving Time ends, that means you've achieved a pre-season goal: qualifying for the district playoffs.
"It's kind of fun to be playing in November," Central York head coach Brad Livingston said on Tuesday before his team headed out to its turf game field to practice under the lights.
"It's a cool thing to be in the playoffs, and I kind of like the fact that it's a win-or-go-home atmosphere. The kids don't really get that a lot. They mess up a test in school, they get to do it over. It's going to be four, 12-minute periods on Friday night, and you don't get a second shot. That's a good life lesson."
Central (7-3), which will play host to Chambersburg (6-4) in a Class AAAA game at 7 p.m. Friday, earned 144 minutes of District 3 football action last season. The Panthers won two games, defeating Red Lion and Gov. Mifflin, before losing to eventual district and state champion Central Dauphin in the semifinals.
"The experience we had last year made us want to go back this year and experience it some more," Central quarterback Corey Hartz said. "Our goals are, first the division (York-Adams Division I) and then the playoffs. That's what we aim for."
The Panthers shared the Division I title this season with Spring Grove.
Hartz is a big reason why Central earned a piece of the D-I crown. He has been on Central's varsity team since his freshman year. He took over as the starting quarterback this season and delivered an exceptional performance. The Panthers' senior is the highest-rated quarterback in the York-Adams League with 1,862 passing yards and 24 touchdown passes.
"I think I improved a lot from August (the beginning of training camp) to now," Hartz said. "Pretty much, the improvement has been in reading defenses and making better decisions."
Hartz credits Central offensive coordinator Matt Baker with helping him develop into an elite quarterback.
"I love working with Coach Baker," Hartz said. "The way he reads defenses really helps me. He'll read a defense, then he'll show me, and then I really know what to do."
Hartz and his teammates are bracing for a tough test on Friday from a Chambersburg team that plays in the perennially strong Commonwealth Division of the Mid-Penn Conference.
"They're bigger than us, I'll give them that," Hartz said. "It's going to be a brawl. They blitz, but we'll be practicing all week for them, and we'll see what happens on Friday night."
Livingston sees the matchup as Chambersburg's size and strength against Central's speed.
"They have some big people up front, and we have some fast people who can run," Livingston said. "I'm not sure we've ever had a team with this much speed on it."
The veteran coach, who's in his 43rd season, 31st as a head coach, said this year's team fulfilled his expectation.
"Coming into the season, I thought that this was going to be a really fun bunch of kids to watch playing football, and it has turned out to be that way," he said.
Of course Livingston is hoping he'll get a chance to watch the players compete after this Friday.
"We know that Chambersburg has lost four games, but all four of those losses were to teams in Class AAAA playoffs (State College, Central Dauphin, Harrisburg, Cumberland Valley), and they won six ballgames for the first time in 10 years or so," he said. "Hopefully, the fact that we have a little bit of experience in the playoffs will bode well for us."
Jamal Pickett is Chambersburg's leading rusher with 952 yards. Ryan Martin has supplied the balance with 1,303 passing yards and 16 TD passes. Kellen Williams (26 receptions for 641 yards) is the Trojans' top receiver.
"They will spread you out, and they have certain passing routes," Livingston said. "But at the end of the day, they want to run the ball."
Central counts on the terrific all-around play of Marquis Fells. The senior has accounted for a combined 1,281 yards, rushing and receiving, and is averaging 42.2 yards on kickoff returns.
The Panthers' Sherief Sutton is averaging an impressive 10.5 yards a carry (40 for 418), and Darian Hampton is averaging 19.5 yards a reception with 43 catches for 838 yards.
Central and Chambersburg have one common opponent, Cumberland Valley. The Panthers lost to the Eagles, 35-17, and the Trojans fell to their division rival, 41-27.
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin firstname.lastname@example.org.