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Elijah Workinger, Nyzair Smith, Dayjure Stewart and Taylor Wright-Rawls show up on the list of the top seven plays from the 2018 Y-A football season. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer

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The countdown has begun.

The 2019 high school football season openers are just 3½ weeks away, but the York-Adams League players and coaches have been in serious preparation for months.

In fact, the groundwork for the upcoming season actually began the day after the 2018 season ended.

That’s the way high school football operates these days. There really is no offseason. If you want to be really good, you have to work really hard — all year long. The offseason is now packed with weight-room workouts, 7-on-7 drills and team camps.

All of that training is done with one goal in mind — winning championships.

Starting with a full schedule of Week Zero games on Friday, Aug. 23, we’ll soon learn which Y-A teams are best positioned to reach that goal.

First, however, we’ll get introduced to the players and coaches during Y-A Media Day on Thursday, Aug. 1. That will be followed by the heat acclimatization period starting Monday, Aug. 5, and the first official day of practice on Monday, Aug. 12.

It’s a hectic schedule that doesn’t allow much time to get ready for the Aug. 23 openers.

The countdown really has begun.

With that in mind, here are three opening-night games that should get the 2019 season off to rousing start:

Bearcats face huge challenge: There’s little doubt that the most highly anticipated opening-night game of 2019 is York High’s battle against perennial state power Pittsburgh Central Catholic.

It’s part of an eight-game Western Pennsylvania vs. Everyone Football Showcase. The Bearcats and PCC will face off at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena Stadium.

There’s no doubt that Russ Stoner’s Bearcats have made huge strides in recent seasons, winning a combined 20 games over the past two years, including an 11-2 mark in 2018. That’s an amazing turnaround for a program that went 1-9 in 2016.

Despite that recent success, each of York High’s last two seasons ended with disappointing District 3 Class 5-A losses to Gov. Mifflin (56-7) and Cocalico (61-35). Against PCC, the Bearcats will want to prove that they can hang with more elite competition.

Still, PCC will offer York High a challenge far tougher than anything the Bearcats have faced during the Stoner era. The Vikings’ program owns four state championships, including a 6-A crown as recently as 2015.

Last year, the Vikings had a “down” year for them at 7-4, but this year’s PCC program is already being promoted as a state title contender and is ranked No. 2 in the 6-A state preseason rankings by PennLive.com. The Vikings are loaded with NCAA Division I talent.

The Bearcats will learn quickly just where they stand against one of the state’s best programs.

Rivalry comes to an end: In previous years, the premier opening game in York County was almost always the West York-Central York battle.

The two neighborhood rivals started annually banging heads in 2006. When the series first started, the competition was close, intense and almost always played in front of standing-room-only crowds. West York was in the middle of a golden age under head coach Ron Miller (who is now at Dallastown), while Central was always a formidable foe under longtime head coach Brad Livingston.

In fact, in the first nine years of the series, West York held a 6-3 edge.

In recent years, however, the 6-A Panthers have dominated, winning the last four games vs. the 4-A Bulldogs by an average margin of 18 points, including a 38-14 Central win in 2018.

So, it’s not all that surprising that Central head coach Josh Oswalt, along with Panthers athletic director Marty Trimmer, decided to end the series, at least for now. They said that playing a 4-A school hurt the school’s District 3 power rating. Oswalt called it a “business decision.”

As a result, in 2020 and 2021, the Panthers will play 5-A Exeter Township instead of West York. Oswalt said the Panthers, coming off an 8-3 season, want to become a district power, and playing 5-A or 6-A programs will help them in that endeavor.

Oswalt admitted the decision to end the series didn’t sit well with everyone in his own school, and the folks at West York, according to Bulldogs AD Frank Hawkins, “were disappointed” by the move.

Given that background, you have to believe that the players and coaches from West York will be seriously pumped up for the 2019 opener. The fact that West York will be playing its first game under new head coach Ivan Quinones will only add to the hype. Quinones is the former defensive coordinator for Dallastown.

The Bulldogs also have some momentum entering 2019 after ending last season with five straight regular-season wins to earn a district berth after an 0-5 start.

Playing their 2019 opener on their home field under a new coach, the Bulldogs will undoubtedly want to send a strong farewell message to the Panthers.

Irish vs. Trojans: The other intriguing match-up on opening night will be another neighborhood rivalry — York Suburban at York Catholic.

York Catholic has been a dominant small-school program in recent years under Eric DePew, winning District 3 2-A titles in 2016 and 2018. They’ve made the district finals in six straight seasons, going 52-21 during that stretch. The Fighting Irish have been even better the last three seasons, going 30-6, including a 12-1 mark in 2018.

York Catholic has also ruled this longtime rivalry in recent years, winning four straight vs. the Trojans, although three of those four wins have come by seven points or fewer.

The Irish, however, suffered some serious graduation losses from a senior-laden team in 2018.

Suburban, meanwhile, has struggled the last couple of years, going a combined 6-14, but the Trojans will return two of the league’s most high-profile players in 2019.

Garth Barclay may be the league’s best lineman. The 6-foot, 7-inch, 250-pound Trojan has already committed to play for Syracuse. He’ll pave the way for the league’s top returning rusher in Savion Harrison, who ran for more than 1,200 yards last season while averaging more than 7 yards per carry.

Those two will certainly hope to end their standout Suburban careers by finally beating their next-door rival.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

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