Every one of Red Lion's football wins has told us something about the Lions this season.
Through their first seven games, the Lions had wins by 21 points (twice), 24 points, 29 points, 35 points, 42 points and 49 points. Each of those victories showcased the dominance that Red Lion has enjoyed over its opponents week in and week out. Not just within York-Adams Division I, but within District 3.
Until the Lions demonstrated that they could handle a fourth-quarter dogfight, however, there would still be questions mark about the team.
Friday night, in a tough road test against Central York, Red Lion found an opponent that was capable of absorbing the Lions' best shot and then return the favor — at last. The Lions seemed well on their way to another lopsided win, leading by 15 points at halftime. That lead was reduced to three by the start of the fourth quarter and the Panthers even had a chance to tie it on a field goal.
That's when Red Lion had to dig deep — the deepest it's had to dig all year long. The special-teams unit blocked the field-goal attempt to keep the Lions ahead and the offense responded with one of its best drives all season, a methodical four-plus-minute march that culminated in a touchdown to go up by 10. The final score would stay that way, 28-18.
Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay said after the game that he wanted to see how his team would respond when it was actually pushed to its limits. because he knows once the District 3 6-A playoffs roll around, the days of blowout wins will be long gone. His team would need to show that it has the fortitude to take a team's best shots and give them right back.
The Lions finally got the chance to display that ability Friday night.
Red Lion's talent isn't in question. The Lions are well on their way to winning their first York-Adams Division I title since 2003 and is one of two remaining undefeated teams in District 3, and the only one in 6-A.
The last thing the Lions could afford, however, was to roll through their regular season winning every game by more than three scores, and then run into an equally talented team in the District 3 playoffs, only to lose by three scores because they didn't know how to handle adversity.
The blowout wins have been nice because it's allowed Shay to pull his starters early and keep them healthy. That'll certainly pay off in the coming weeks when fatigue and injuries set in for most teams, while Red Lion will enter the playoffs seemingly unharmed.
The only thing left for the Lions to prove within the league is that it is the most dominant team in Division I. Sure, that's probably no longer in doubt, the way they've dispatched team after team, week after week, but all of that can be subjective until there's something concrete that says "we are the best." Something like, a Division I title and a banner to hang at the school.
Red Lion very well might go 10-0 in the regular season. Quite frankly, it's more probable than not, and that's certainly one heck of an achievement that can't be taken away.
A Lions team this talented, however, will ultimately be judged on how it performs at the district level, a stage no York County big school has ever really had success.
Red Lion could easily go one-and-done in the postseason. Especially when you consider that only the top eight teams from 6-A make the playoffs. Each one will be deserving of being there. There won't be a whole lot separating the top seed from the eighth seed.
When the Lions inevitably face a tough foe at some point in the postseason, they'll need to know they can respond during a game's most tense moments.
After Red Lion showed its late-game mettle Friday night, it now knows that it has that weapon in its arsenal.
Which is why, even though it wasn't a blowout, the Lions' win over the Panthers may have been their most telling.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org