For just over 45 minutes in Friday night's game between Central York and West York, Sakai Barton didn't have much going for him on offense.
The junior wide receiver only had one catch, albeit for 47 yards, but very few targets. But, in two huge plays, he went from afterthought to hero in the Panthers' 31-28 victory over the Bulldogs.
On 4th and 6 with just over a minute remaining in the game, Barton reeled in a 58-yard pass from senior quarterback Nik Strine to keep Central's hopes at a season-opening road victory alive. Then, two plays later, he gave a West York defender a quick double move, beating him to the outside and hauling in another Strine pass for a 16-yard, game-winning touchdown. His final grab capped a one minute, 44 second drive that spanned 80 yards in six plays for the Panthers and lifted his team to the three-point win and kicked the season off in dramatic fashion.
"Honestly, it's all the same at the end of the day," Barton said about comparing his two pivotal receptions. "We won. So, I'm thankful that I caught it. But, all I care about is the win. Personally, I like the touchdown."
Barton's heroics capped a three-catch, 121-yard night for the junior and helped Central avoid blowing two, double-digit leads in the contest.
Up until Strine and Barton orchestrated a text-book perfect two-minute offense, the Panthers were outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter, letting a 24-14 lead after 36 minutes turn into a 28-24 deficit. That hole came by way of Ryan Narber's fourth-and-goal touchdown run with 2:27 remaining in the contest that put West York up by four. And, at the time of Narber's touchdown, the Bulldogs had all the momentum. West York scored with 9:11 left in the fourth quarter to shrink Central's 24-14 advantage to only 24-21, courtesy of quarterback Tyler Folk's one-yard touchdown run. Then, a quick three-and-out and great field position set up by only a nine-yard punt by the Panthers gave the Bulldogs prime starting field position to begin their go-ahead scoring drive.
Still, Central felt that it had plenty of time to come up with some late-game magic, despite having to navigate 80 yards of grass in just over two minutes and against a stiff West York defense that was only on the field for three plays the entire quarter.
"Those (drives) are the kinds of things (offensive coordinator) Matt (Baker) works on all the time," Panthers head coach Brad Livingston said. "We had two timeouts... but, we were able to hit the long ball and then, when we got down in there, we were in pretty good shape. We had a timeout left, we had kill the clock left and we had room to get a first down and stop the clock, so we felt pretty good about being able to make plays on that drive."
Barton's catches were the big moments of the drive, but Strine also shined the entire game. For the night, the senior completed 10 of 21 passes for 223 yards, four total touchdowns and no turnovers.
Central opened the scoring just over halfway into the first quarter on a 15-yard touchdown run by Strine to put it up 7-0. Then, after the Panthers defense forced a turnover on downs, Central's offense capitalized again. On the first play of the second quarter, running back Shyheim Goff turned a little dump-off pass from Strine into a 30-yard touchdown grab to give the Panthers a 14-0 advantage.
But, the Bulldogs fought back, cutting their deficit in half on a Terry Cains touchdown catch from two yards out with 8:11 left in the first half. Then, right before the half, senior quarterback Tyler Folk ran in a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 with seven seconds left in the half.
The score right before the half set West York up with a big opportunity as it came out to begin the second half by receiving the kickoff. However, a strip-sack by the Central defense gave its offense a short field to operate. But, the Bulldog defense held strong, limiting the Panthers to a 23-yard field goal by Carter Luckenbaugh, giving them a 17-14 lead.
After the game's first three-and-out, Central got the ball right back at its own 45 and Strine orchestrated another nice touchdown drive, this time with most of the damage coming on the ground. The end result was a seven-yard touchdown catch from Shawn Johnston to put the Panthers ahead 24-14 with just under a minute left in the third quarter.
In total, Strine connected with six different receivers, with Barton coming down with a game-high three catches. Goff ran the ball 13 times for 50 yards and had the one receiving touchdown.
For West York, Folk went 12-of-20 for 186 yards, three total touchdowns, but two turnovers. He also rushed 14 times for 81 yards. Cadence Thomas had a game-high 104 yards rushing on 17 carries.
The road win for Central made it six straight years in the cross-town rivalry that the visitors came away with the win. It also gives the Panthers a huge boost going forward, as they now get set to face District 3-AAAA powerhouse Cumberland Valley next Friday night on the road as well.
"It's always a good rivalry," Strine said. "Our team really pulled it out at the end and it's an awesome win. Especially preparing this much time in the offseason and it we all look forward to this game and it comes down to that, it's awesome."
The Bulldogs must now travel to Dallastown to take on the Wildcats next Friday night.
Central York 7 7 10 7 - 31
West York 0 14 0 14 - 28
CY, Strine runs for 15 yards (extra point good, 7-0) CY, Goff 30-yard catch from Strine (extra point good, 14-0) WY, Cains 2-yard catch from Folk (extra point good, 14-7) WY, Folk runs seven yards (extra point good, 14-14) CY, Luckenbaugh kicks 23-yard field goal (17-14) CY, Johnston 7-yard catch from Strine (extra point good, 24-14) WY, Folk runs one yard (extra point good, 24-21) WY, Narber runs two yards (extra point good, 28-24) CY, Barton 16-yard catch from Strine (extra point good, 31-28)
Category CY WY
Rushes/Yard 24-76 36-234
Passing 10-21 12-21
Passing Yards 223 186
Total Yard 299 420
First Downs 9 16
Penalties/Yards 4-40 11-63
Fumbles/Lost 1-0 1-1
Punts/Average 4-21.8 2-42
RUSHING: CY - Goff 13-50, Strine 4-22, Stroman 5-2, Paneto 1-2. West York - Thomas 17-104, Folk 14-71, Narber 4-36, Baldwin 1-0.
PASSING: CY - Strine 10-21-223, 3. West York - Folk, 12-20-186, 2, Johnson, 0-1-0, 0.
RECEIVING: CY - Barton 3-121, Cheveaux 2-44, Falkenstein 2-11, Goff 1-30, Johnston 1-7, Stroman 1-4. WY - Cains 2-16, Baldwin 2-13, Dorm 2-85, Messersmith 2-33, Kahley 1-0, Bentzel 1-30, Thomas 1-5, Narber 1-4.
- Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker