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Red Lion senior running back Dylan Gurreri came right out and said it.

His head coach, Jesse Shay, made the same point, but in a more humble manner.

Regardless of how it was phrased, the message from both was the same — Red Lion football can no longer be overlooked.

Friday night's showdown between the Lions and Northeastern pitted two teams that entered the year with lofty expectations. Both were expected to contend for the York-Adams League Division I crown. Yet, only one was widely considered the favorite, and it wasn't Red Lion.

So, when the Bobcats entered the game already with a loss and the Lions unbeaten, it was a chance for Northeastern to get back in the Division I race. Red Lion, meanwhile, had a chance to notch a signature win midway through the season.

The end result, a 35-14 domination by the Lions, proved that this year will likely be different than past seasons.

It's been well documented that ever since Shay arrived in Red Lion before the 2013 season, all his teams have done is improve each year. He took a one-win team in 2012 and transformed it into a four-win club in his first season. That led to a six-win campaign in his second year and then a seven-win season a year ago.

However, in the last two years, while the progress has been there, the one thing that stayed the same was the team's finish within the Division I race. In both 2014 and 2015, the Lions finished in a tie for second place, an end product of coming up short in the biggest division games against the best division teams.

Sure, Red Lion ended last year's regular season with a shutout win over rival Dallastown, but it was too little, too late. At that point, the Wildcats had already wrapped up the Division I title, while the win moved the Lions into a three-way tie for second in the division with Northeastern and South Western, two teams that they lost to in back-to-back weeks to all but take them out of title contention by Week 6.

This year's team, however, looks different. It's full of seniors — so much so that it can be argued that if Red Lion can't win the Division I title this year, then it might not for years to come. The Lions will return no more than a handful of starters and key players in 2017.

So, Red Lion knows that 2016 is the year to put it all together and hang a banner to commemorate a championship season. So far, the team has made believers out of nearly everyone.

In their five wins, the Lions have outscored their opponents by 143 points. On a per-game basis, that's 28.6 points per game, or a little more than four touchdowns. Their two closest wins have been by 21 points — the win over the Bobcats on Friday night and a 31-10 win over Chambersburg in Week 2.

Something else working in Red Lion's favor this year is its schedule.

Last year, you could argue that two of the Lions' three toughest games were on the road — Northeastern and Dallastown. They surprisingly came within a one-point defeat to the Bobcats, which would've made them 2-0 in those battles.

Still, there's nothing like playing on home turf and, when Horn Field's enormous home grandstand is nearly packed to capacity, there might not be a home-field advantage quite like it around the York-Adams League. So, it works in Red Lion's favor that two of its three toughest games this year will be played at home.

The Lions already checked off one of those games with the thorough dispatching of the Bobcats this past week. Now, they must go on the road and take on a revived South Western program in Week 6, a team that's gone 2-0 in division play after losing back-to-back games in Week 2 and Week 3.

Should Red Lion get past the Mustangs on the road this upcoming Friday, then it very well could be smooth sailing heading into its annual Week 10 rivalry showdown with the Wildcats.

At that point, the Lions could very well have a District 3 6-A playoff berth wrapped up and have their sole focus be on winning the Division I title.

They say every win and loss can tell you something about a team.

Well, Friday night's thumping of Northeastern proved that this Red Lion team is tired of finishing second fiddle.

Now, the Lions are ready to take that next step and become champions.

If they can do that, then they'll gain the respect that they rightfully will have earned.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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