HEISER: Central York, York High have chances to earn early District 3 statement victories
- The District 3 football playoffs begin this weekend.
- In 6-A, Central York (9-1) travels to Harrisburg (7-3) on Saturday afternoon.
- In 5-A, York High (7-3) plays host to Exeter Township (7-3) on Friday night.
It's a familiar narrative by now.
When the District 3 football playoffs roll around, the big schools from the York-Adams League usually come up small.
History can't be disputed.
Since the district football playoffs started back in 1982, just one Y-A school (West York in Class 3-A in 2008) has earned a big-school title. No Y-A program has ever won a title in the largest classification offered by District 3.
For the purposes of this column, a big school is defined as a 3-A program under the original three-class format used from 1982 through 1984, a 3-A or 4-A program under the four-class format used from 1985 through 2015 or a 4-A, 5-A or 6-A program under the six-class format used from 2016 through this year.
This year, six Y-A big schools made the district field and will try to flip the script on the past disappointments.
Two of those teams (unbeaten York Suburban and Gettysburg in 4-A) got first-round byes this weekend. Two others (New Oxford and Northeastern) will face off in all-Y-A first-round showdown in 5-A.
That leaves two local big schools with opportunities to make early district statements this weekend against out-of-league opponents. Central York visits Harrisburg at 1 p.m. Saturday in a 6-A contest, and York High will play host to Exeter Township at 7 p.m. Friday in a 5-A contest.
Here's a closer look at those games:
Central York (9-1) at Harrisburg (7-3): Just looking at the records, you would think that Central would be favored.
You would be wrong. That's because records can be deceiving.
One of Harrisburg's three losses came against Archbishop Hoban, an Ohio power that currently sits at 8-1 and is ranked among the top 50 teams in the nation by MaxPreps.com. Since it came against an out-of-state program, that loss didn't count against Harrisburg's District 3 power rating.
The Cougars' other losses came against Central Dauphin (8-2) and State College (9-1). Central Dauphin is the No. 3 seed in District 3 6-A, while State College is No. 1 in the District 6 6-A playoffs.
Harrisburg also owns two very impressive wins against Coatesville and Cedar Cliff. Coatesville, coached by former York High head coach Matt Ortega, is 7-2 and ranked among the top 25 teams in the state by MaxPreps, while Cedar Cliff is 8-2 and the No. 2 seed in District 3 5-A.
Because of its tough schedule and statement wins, Harrisburg is seeded No. 4 in the district 6-A field, while Central, despite two fewer defeats, is No. 5. That's why the Division I champion Panthers must travel to Harrisburg, which finished third in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division behind Central Dauphin and State College.
Ask most folks outside of York County, and they'd likely tell you that Harrisburg will win this game. That's largely because, year in and year out, the Mid-Penn Commonwealth is generally considered superior to Y-A D-I.
That doesn't mean, however, that coach Josh Oswalt's Panthers can't win on Saturday.
Central ran roughshod over the Y-A D-I competition this year, outscoring each division foe by at least 20 points.
Only a turnover-plagued, one-point loss to Cumberland Valley early in the season blemished Central's record. Of course, that Cumberland Valley team finished fifth in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth and lost to Harrisburg by 27 points. The Eagles did manage to finish 5-5 and make the District 3 6-A field as the No. 7 seed.
Central's other nonleague wins came vs. a 1-9 West York outfit (60-0) and a 4-6 Hempfield squad (30-28).
Both teams boast loads of talent.
Central is led by sophomore quarterback Beau Pribula (who already has a Temple scholarship offer), running back Imeire Manigault and wideout Taylor Wright-Rawls. Central's defense is allowing just 8.3 points per game.
Harrisburg may be the fastest team in District 3. Wideouts Donte Kent and Kamere Day and running back Jahmir Plant can go the distance any time they touch the ball. Penn State recruit Nate Bruce (6-4, 325 pounds) headlines a mammoth Cougars offensive line.
Central will undoubtedly be the underdog, based on seeding, history and reputation. Still, the Panthers are more than capable of pulling off the upset, especially if they can win the turnover and special-teams battles and limit Harrisburg's big plays.
Of course, that's easier said than done.
Exeter Township (7-3) at York High (7-3): Exeter enters this game as the No. 11 seed in 5-A, while York is the No. 6 seed.
The better seeding earned coach Russell Stoner's Bearcats the home game at Small Field.
That, obviously, should give York an edge.
The Bearcats' three regular-season losses are the team's most since 2016. Those three defeats, however, didn't come against any weak sisters. In fact, all three came against 6-A playoff teams: Pittsburgh Central Catholic (9-1 and ranked No. 3 in the state), Central York (9-1 and the Y-A D-I champ) and Cedar Crest (7-3).
Exeter's losses, meanwhile, came against Berks Catholic (6-4 and a District 3 4-A playoff team), Spring-Ford (8-2 and a District 1 6-A playoff team) and Gov. Mifflin (7-3 and District 3 5-A playoff team).
Like York High, Exeter has no embarrassing losses, but it seems clear that York High's schedule was a little tougher.
In addition, last year, York advanced to District 3 5-A semifinals, while Exeter was ousted in the first round. That's another advantage for the Bearcats.
The two teams had no common foes, but both finished second in their respective divisions, with York High finishing behind Central York in Y-A D-I, while Exeter was second in Berks Section I behind Gov. Mifflin.
Both teams also have game-breakers. York High's run-dominated offense is led by quarterback Tobee Stokes and running backs Tyrell Whitt, Marcellus John and Kelvin Matthews.
Exeter, meanwhile, will counter with a dangerous passing game, led by junior quarterback Gavin McCusker (more than 1,600 yards passing) and Alex Javier (36 catches, averaging nearly 22 yards per reception).
Put all those factors together, and this is a game that York High should win, but the gap between the teams looks fairly narrow.
To grab the win, the Bearcats must avoid untimely penalties, costly turnovers and special-teams mistakes.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.