Seven weeks into the season, the Red Lion football team had yet to be tested.
As much as that proved the Lions' dominance, it wouldn't bode well once the team hit the District 3 6-A playoffs, knowing that it would eventually have to play a tight game.
On Friday night, Red Lion finally faced its first sign of adversity and passed with flying colors.
Facing a resurgent Central York team, the Lions withstood a third-quarter rally by the Panthers and earned a hard-fought 28-18 victory at Central York, improving to 8-0 on the year and 5-0 in York-Adams League Division I. The Panthers fell to 5-3 and 3-2 in Division I.
"One of the things we talked about as a staff was our closest victory up until now was 21 points," Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay said. "You hit the playoffs, that doesn't happen. So, I wanted to see how we responded when a team was going to push us."
The Lions handled their first challenge well. Holding a 21-6 lead going into the halftime break, it looked like it was going to be just another Red Lion blowout.
But, Central York answered, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions of the third quarter — a 69-yard strike from quarterback Cade Pribula to Sakai Barton and then a 14-yard score from the same duo — to bring the score to 21-18. The 69-yard touchdown pass capped a five-play drive for the Panthers that started on their own one yard line.
The game completely flipped in favor of Central York and for the first time all year for the Lions, there was some doubt in the outcome of the game heading into the fourth quarter.
However, the defense for Red Lion stiffened, blocking a potential game-tying field goal early in the fourth quarter to get back the ball for its offense.
From there, quarterback Sam Emig and junior wide receiver Zach Throne took over. The duo hooked up 19 times through the air in the game, although 18 of those plays were little jet sweep shovel passes. Still, Throne led the team down the field and Emig took care of the final 19 yards, eventually capping the four-plus minute drive with a five-yard run to make it 28-18 and put the game to rest.
The 19-catch, 178-yard performance by Throne was easily the junior's best of the season. His speed on the edges gave the Panthers' defense all sorts of fits and was the most consistent positive play that the Lions ran all night.
"I enjoy getting the ball that much," he said. "I loved helping the team out as much as I could."
Added Shay, "We liked the match-ups that we had with our blockers, especially with our fullback Patrick Daugherty. ...It's one of those things that if it's not broke, don't fix it."
In past games, that designed play primarily went to senior Paul Jones. But, with Jones being used heavily on defense and special teams, Shay threw a wrinkle in the plan and drew up the play for Throne, even catching Panthers' head coach Josh Oswalt off guard.
"I haven't seen No. 1 (Throne) run the ball on film all year," he said. "That's kudos to Jesse. He was doing that with No. 21 (Jones) all year long and No. 1 was playing some good corner for him and then they moved him over to receiver. I'd just like to know what was going on there, but No. 1 played a big game for them."
Knowing that Central needed the win to move into a tie for the Division I lead and improve its standing in the District 3 6-A power ratings, Red Lion established its dominance on the very first play from scrimmage.
Daugherty took the first play 61 yards for a rushing touchdown, putting the Lions ahead 7-0 just 17 seconds into the game.
"That right there, we wanted to try to set the stage and run right at them," Shay said. "Every play is designed to score, but you don't think that one is going to get popped for 61 yards, but we'll certainly take it."
Daugherty later caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0 Red Lion after one quarter, but that was answered by a Noreaga Goff three-yard run early in the second quarter to make it 14-6.
Emig put the Lions back up by two scores late in the second quarter with a nifty 19-yard run that included a leap over a defender, a spin move and then busting through two tacklers to find the endzone.
Due to the constant use of Throne and the little jet sweep shovel passes, Emig finished the night with 218 passing yards on 25-of-27 passing, including completing his final 18 throws. Emig also led the team with 107 rushing yards. Throne led the team with the 19 grabs for 178 yards. As a team, Red Lion totaled 461 yards.
Goff ran for a game-high 118 yards for the Panthers, while Pribula was a 13-of-29 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Barton finished the night with six catches for 112 yards and the two scores.
While the Lions are now in prime position to at least earn a share of their first Division I title since 2003 with a win in their final two games, Central York will most likely need to win its final two games to make the District 3 playoffs.
And even though there aren't any moral victories at this point in the season, the fact that the Panthers took Red Lion down to the wire showed just how talented this team is.
"I'm really starting to understand who our team is and what we're about," Oswalt said. "We dug ourselves a hole, yet again, but I'm just so proud of how we play four quarters of football and we finish that second half every week. It's setting us up for success down the road."
The Lions will travel to Spring Grove in Week 9, while Central York will hit the road to face Dallastown.
RED LION 28, CENTRAL YORK 18
RL — Daugherty 60-yard run (Emig kick), 11:43
RL — Daugherty 16-yard catch (Emig kick), 1:01
CY — Goff 3-yard run (kick failed), 11:09
RL — Emig 19-yard run (Emig kick), 2:25
CY — Barton 14-yard catch (2-point try failed), 8:20
CY — Barton 69-yard catch (kick failed), 4:04
RL — Emig 5-yard run (Emig kick), 6:14
First Downs: CY, 18. RL, 23
Rushes-Yards: CY, 29-139. RL, 31-243
Passing Yards: CY 249. RL, 218
Comp-Attempts-INTs: CY, 13-29-2. RL, 25-27-0
Penalties-Yards: CY, 4-35. RL, 7-53.
Punts-Average: CY, 1-41. RL, 3-35.7
Fumbles-Lost: CY, 0-0. RL, 1-0
Individual Passing: CY, Pribula, 13-29-249, 2 TD's. RL, Emig, 25-27-218, 0 TD's.
Individual Rushing: CY, Goff 24-118. Pribula 5-21. RL, Emig 15-107. Daugherty 3-69. Gurreri 12-55. Throne 1-12.
Individual Receiving: CY, Barton 6-112. Anderson 2-54. Ward 1-45. Goff 2-18. Santiago 1-15. Sturgis 1-5. RL, Throne 19-178. Daugherty 1-16. Favorito 3-13. Uberti 2-11.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com