After slow start, Eastern York surges to division lead

Patrick Strohecker
  • Eastern York is in first place in the Division II standings with a 3-0 record.
  • The Golden Knights have won three games in a row after beginning the year 0-3.
  • Eastern hasn't won a division title in football since 1990.

Eastern York football coach Jeff Mesich said he didn't have to deliver his best William Wallace speech following his team's Week 3 loss to Littlestown.

There was no need to go "Braveheart" on his Golden Knights.

At that point, however, the Golden Knights definitely needed some sort of change.

Eastern York head coach Jeff Mesich goes over the goals of the evening football practice with his Golden Knights team, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

They had lost their first three games of the season and were about to embark on York-Adams League Division II play. Yet, even in defeat, Mesich and his players said they saw something in that 18-14 loss to the Thunderbolts. Eastern led for much of the contest vs. Littlestown, only to have its final drive stall with a late-game interception in the end zone.

The Knights had taken a Division III and District 3 3-A power down to the wire. It was a sign that things might be turning for the better for the Wrightsville program.

Ever since that narrow, loss in its home opener, Eastern hasn't had to experience the heartbreak of losing, winning its last three games and vaulting to the top of the Division II standings.

"I would say that Week 3 game was the first time where we had seen our team hit adversity and keep fighting back and doing the right thing afterwards," Mesich said. "...It was a pretty big deal for us to stalemate them and play solid with them at the line and, really off of that, the last three weeks, we've taken that momentum of that line play and that's been the difference for us offensively. We've just been able to move the ball and dominate teams at the line of scrimmage."

Wide-open race: It didn't hurt the Knights that, even with an 0-3 start, those losses had no impact on its division chances.

Sure, it would make qualifying for the District 3 3-A playoffs difficult, especially since only the top four teams in the class make it, but at the time, that wasn't the team's focus.

So, even though Eastern was winless three weeks into the season, the start of division play gave the team new hope and a reason to wipe the slate clean.

"We always thought we could win this division, and that was kind of a rough start for us," senior running back and linebacker Keegan Corwell said. "But, then we realized that we could do it and beat these teams because we played really rough teams to begin with and we were close to them, but then we realized that this could be a real thing for us, to win this division."

It also helped that, up to that point, Division II as a whole was off to a terrible start. Through the first three weeks of the season, all non-league games, Division II teams went just 4-17, with no team having more than one win. With no team really establishing itself during those first three weeks, the Knights, despite their 0-3 record, started thinking, "why not us?"

Adapting to change: Much of the early struggle and recent success can also be directly tied to needing some time to adapt to the different systems under Mesich, who is in his first year as head coach of the program.

For the seniors, Mesich is their third coach in four years. With each new coach comes new systems. The last two seasons under Dave Kemmick, Eastern was all about the power running game, going right at a defense and smacking it in the mouth.

Under Mesich, however, the Knights transitioned to what he calls a "power spread," which gives the offense flexibility on how it'll approach the game based on the team it's facing. While it's paying dividends now, at the beginning of the year, the players needed a couple weeks to work out the wrinkles.

"We're very adaptable," senior offensive and defensive lineman Wyatt Smith said. "We have a wide range of experience when it comes to offense. ... This year's offensive scheme is a little more adaptable. It changes week-to-week, and the other team doesn't know what to expect. Last year was kind of smash mouth, we're going to hit you right in the middle. This year, it's kind of we'll finesse you, then power you and then finesse you some more."

Eastern York quarterback Seth Bernstein falls back to pass during practice, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. Bernstein, who is now at York High, helped the Golden Knights to a 4-2 record in Division II in 2016 as a sophomore. John A. Pavoncello photo

Ending a drought: At the moment, Eastern is 3-3 overall and holds a half-game lead over York Suburban for the Division II lead, but that will eventually have a chance to even itself out when the Golden Knights play their final non-league game in Week 9 against Central Martinsburg.

This week, Eastern travels to Susquehannock. The Knights will have a chance to match their win total from the entire 2015 season.

The Knights have already eclipsed their division win total from last year, but at this point, they have even loftier goals than just one-upping last year's 4-6 campaign.

When Mesich first arrived at Eastern back in March, he made it a point to tell the players that the last time the Knights won a division title in football was in 1990, years before any of the kids on the team were even born.

With just a few more wins, Eastern can hang another division championship banner, showcasing its return to the top.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at