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Central York turnaround has it in D-I title discussion

Patrick Strohecker
505-5402/@P_Strohecker
  • Central York knocked off Northeastern on Friday night, 28-27, rallying from a 20-0 halftime deficit.
  • The Panthers are 3-1 so far this year, matching their win total from 2015.
  • Central is ranked eighth in the District 3 6-A power ratings.

Walking off the field down 20-0 at halftime at Northeastern Friday night, a loss seemed all but written in stone for the Central York football team.

Central York's Sakai Barton (7), chest bumps his teammate Hunter Werner (26), after Werner scored a touchdown earlier in the year. The Panthers are 3-1 on the season. Amanda J. Cain photo

A year ago, a deficit of that margin would've likely spelled defeat.

The 2016 Panthers, however, appear to be a different breed.

They mounted a rally, outscoring the highly-touted Bobcats, 28-7, in the second half en route to a 28-27 win, sending shock waves throughout the entire York-Adams League Division I landscape. Teams coming off 3-7 seasons don't normally have that type of resolve. The thoughts of lopsided defeats from the previous season are normally still fresh in the players' minds and have an effect on how they respond to adversity the following year.

The 2015 Central program was a different team, in more ways than one. There was a coaching change, with the ousting of longtime head coach Brad Livingston and the hiring of the young Josh Oswalt. With that move came a culture change. Oswalt knew how to rebuild a program, having turned around a dismal Carlisle bunch into a playoff team. Still, many thought that a turnaround for the Panthers would take at least a couple of years. Not much was expected out of the 2016 cast.

Friday's come-from-behind win, however, was much more than just another victory. It represented the change that's taken place within the program, one that suggests that Central York football might just be back and well ahead of schedule.

"From the beginning of the offsesason, our mentality was 'Win the One,'" senior wide receiver Sakai Barton said about the team's goal to win Division I. "Plain and simple, we had to come and turn the whole program around. A new coach came and gave us a mindset that we have to work and outwork the best man and that's what we've been doing so far."

Coming together: According to the players, if there was one problem that plagued the Panthers in the past, it was their lack of a "team" feel.

Too many times, players would do what was best for themselves, but not what was best for the collective group. It was mindset mentioned back in August during Y-A League Media Day and then echoed again on Tuesday at practice by senior cornerback Jordan Bowie.

"Last year, we lacked a lot of energy," he said. "We had a lot of 'me' players instead of 'we' players, but this year we came all together. Coach (Oswalt) came here and he's done an unbelievable job so far. Without him, we wouldn't be 3-1 this year."

Barton expanded on Bowie's thoughts and said that since the offseason workouts and fall practices, the team always does stuff together, even outside of football. All of that can be attributed to the strong start and renewed sense of passion within the program.

Back to basics: While Bowie and Barton both give Oswalt's arrival a lot of credit for the early-season success, it was a bit more complicated than a simple coaching change.

One look at the Central roster and you'll notice that, as a whole, it's a young group. There are seniors with varsity experience, but for a Class 6-A school, the Panthers are having to rely on a lot of youth, as well.

On Friday nights, that youth is on display. A number of sophomores and juniors see regular playing time. Perhaps the most obvious example is sophomore starting quarterback Cade Pribula. The 10th grader currently leads the league in passing yards through four weeks with 715, and is tied for the league lead with seven touchdown passes.

First-year coach Josh Oswalt (right) has reinvigorated Central York and, after one month, has turned the program back into a Y-A League Division I contender. Amanda J. Cain photo

Pribula is the youngest quarterback on the varsity roster, behind junior Joe Jones, but his work ethic, both on and off the field, made him the favorite to start, according to Oswalt.

It also may have taken a younger coach in Oswalt to better associate with his players. Because of the team's youth, Oswalt has simplified his approach, reminding his players to stick to the basics, something that helped Central knock off the Bobcats on the road.

"We just gotta keep working on the basics," he said. "We're out here, on a Tuesday, still working on fundamentals. At the end of the day, we are still a young team that still has a lot to learn. ... We're not overwhelming them with a lot of checks, a lot of adjustments. We're just letting them learn the game."

Winning changes everything: Winning is a driving force behind everything in sports and, so far, it's led to a more upbeat approach within the program.

Players are excited for practices and it's made Oswalt's first year that much easier. The wins are what everyone is noticing about the Panthers, who are currently rated No. 8 in the District 3 6-A power ratings. If the season ended today, the Panthers would garner the final spot in eight-team 6-A field.

Earlier in the year, Oswalt told his players that they continued to surprise him daily with what they were accomplishing, but now, he doesn't think they can surprise him anymore because he knows what they're capable of doing.

After a win like the one last Friday, Central won't be surprising anyone else in Division I, either.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com