York Suburban head coach Andy Loucks knew what Northern York was all about.
In fact, there weren't too many people inside Robert F. Bostic Field on Friday night that didn't know what the Polars Bears were going to do.
Northern is a team that likes to run the ball and can chew up valuable clock while doing so. It was the recipe that got it to be 8-2 in the regular season and the No. 8 seed in the District 3-AAA playoffs.
However, it wasn't the 281 yards rushing by the Polar Bears that cost the ninth-seeded Trojans on Friday. Rather, it was the two huge passing plays that Northern scored on that cost Suburban the 30-16 lost and ended its season with a record of 8-3.
"What was the difference in the football game was their passing game," Loucks said. "We can't make mistakes like that and let people beat you. We knew they were going to run the football. That's what they do. That's what they hang their hat on. It was the mistakes we made in the passing game and they made plays in the passing game that was difference for them offensively."
The first of two plays that swung the game's momentum in the Polar Bears' favor came right before halftime. With the Trojans trailing 10-9 with about 10 seconds left in the half, quarterback Thomas Merkle was sacked and fumbled the football. That gave Northern one final shot at something, which turned into a 35-yard touchdown catch by Jared Sutch with three seconds left in the half. That play highlighted 10-unanswered points for the Polar Bears in a 46 second span. And, rather than Suburban going into the break down by one, it trailed by seven.
Then, the final key play came late in the fourth quarter. Already down by a touchdown, the Trojan defense faced a big fourth down play that would determine the game's outcome. Polar Bears' quarterback Curtis Robison dropped back on fourth and seven and heaved a pass toward the front-left corner of the endzone, connecting with Joey Razzano for a 32-yard strike, putting Northern up 30-16 with just over three minutes to play and sealing the game.
"We just made too many mistakes tonight," Loucks said. "Uncharacteristic play of us. That's obviously a good football team, played in a tough conference, but we didn't help ourselves tonight."
There was a brief moment in the first half when Suburban looked like it may have stolen the game's momentum and made a case that it was ready to pull off the road upset.
After forcing a Robison fumble inside the five-yard line, on the very next play, Merkle hooked up with his favorite wide receiver, Collin Mailman for a nice 10-yard gain. But, Mailman wasn't done there, breaking a couple tackles and then weaving back-and-forth all the way for a touchdown of 94 yards to put the Trojans up 9-7. However, that was the last time Suburban led, only ever tying the game again at 16-16 early in the third quarter on a 15-yard touchdown catch by Dustin Knaub.
Riding an eight-game winning streak into the contest, the Trojans entered without their second-leading receiver, Brad Smith, who was out with a knee injury. Still, despite missing one of his go-to weapons, Merkle shined in his final game for Suburban, completing 20-of-29 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Twelve of those completions went to Mailman, who had 169 receiving yards and that long touchdown.
Merkle, Mailman, Dajour Henderson (80 yards on 14 carries) and the rest of the team took the game down to the very end, ultimately coming up short on a fourth-down play with just over a minute to play that put the writing on the wall.
"Everybody played their hearts out for four quarters," Loucks said. "Emotionally, we played as hard as we could play. That's just the way we've been all year. We play four quarters. I just wish it would've been a little differently, obviously for those guys and everybody else. But, that's what happens in the playoffs - everybody's good."
Despite a promising regular season ending with an early playoff exit, it was still a successful year for the Trojans, as they captured their first outright division title since 1982.
York Suburban 3 6 7 0 - 16
Northern York 7 9 0 14 - 30
YS, Atkinson 21-yard field goal, 6:48
NY, Kearney 1-yard run (Alves kick), 3:36
YS, Mailman 94-yard catch from Merkle (kick failed), 7:51
NY, Alves 25-yard field goal, 0:49
NY, Sutch 35-yard catch from Robison (kick failed), 0:03
YS, Knaub 15-yard catch from Merkle (Atkinson kick), 10:37
NY, Shelly 1-yard run (Alves kick), 9:10
NY, Razzano 32-yard catch from Robison (Alves kick), 3:03
Category YS NY
Rushes/Yard 26-92 57-281
Passing 20-29-0 6-8-0
Passing Yards 264 81
Total Yards 356 362
First Downs 15 22
Penalties/Yards 5-35 3-25
Fumbles/Lost 4-2 3-2
Punts/Average 2-17 2-30
RUSHING: YS - Henderson 14-80, Hoffman 4-11, Edwards 2-10, Haynes 3-7, Igo 1-(-)6, Merkle 2-(-)10. NY - Shelly 27-142, Robison 14-109, M. Kearney 11-19, Cromer 4-6, J. Kearney 1-5.
PASSING: YS - Merkle 20-29-264, 2. NY - Robison 6-8-81, 2.
RECEIVING: YS - Mailman 12-169, Knaub 6-80, Hoffman 1-10, Deardorf 1-5. NY - Sutch 1-35, Razzano 1-32, Shelly 2-8, J. Kearney 1-6, M. Kearney 1-0.
- Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker