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After starting 1-2, Central York has won its first two York-Adams Division I games by a combined score of 77-7. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch

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Central York football coach Josh Oswalt can be a hard man to please.

It stems from his unquestionably high expectations for his players as individuals and the team as a whole.

During a practice on Tuesday, Oct. 3, while conducting an interview, Oswalt wasn't pleased with what he saw from members of his offense. While the special teams were going through their set of drills, the offensive players, instead of stretching and mentally preparing for their turn on the field, were goofing off and not paying attention.

Oswalt took notice and made sure to lay into his players, calling them out for failing to listen to the simple directions he assigned them.

On the surface, what the players were doing, or better put, weren't doing, seemed trivial. It wasn't trivial to Oswalt.

Central is a team that entered the year with all sorts of expectations, and has yet to fully play to the standard of which it's capable. Oswalt understands that Central York can't afford to be less than 100 percent focused at all times.

"We're progressing every week," he said. "Not the strides that I thought we'd be making, but we are getting stronger each week."

Lofty expectations: Part of Oswalt's lack of praise for what the Panthers have accomplished thus far this year comes from the fact that, for what was and is expected of them, they've yet to live up to the hype.

Much of that has to do with Central York catching everyone by surprise in 2016 by going 7-3 in the regular season and qualifying for the District 3 Class 6-A playoffs. With a solid core returning this year, including junior quarterback Cade Pribula, the Panthers were a trendy pick to win the York-Adams League Division I title.

Through half the season, however, Central is 3-2, putting it in the eighth-and-final 6-A playoff spot. In more than half of its games, Central hasn't quite performed up to the lofty standards placed on the team. An unconvincing, but comfortable win over West York in Week 1 was followed by a pair of defeats to fellow District 3 6-A programs Cumberland Valley and Hempfield.

While CV and Hempfield are usually among the top teams in the largest classification annually, it was a measuring stick for Oswalt and the players to see where they were at early in the season.

"It's great playing those teams," Pribula said. "You really get to see how good you are, early. It doesn't always reflect how good we're going to be at the end of the season, but we know where we have to work to if we want to win district games and that's the goal."

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Rounding into form: Since dropping back-to-back non-league games, the Panthers have begun to show the type of firepower many were expecting in consecutive wins over York-Adams Division I rivals.

A 36-7 win over Northeastern at home in Week 4 got Central back to .500, and then last week, a road shutout of South Western, 41-0, may have been the indicator that the Panthers have turned the corner.

Compared to where the Panthers were through five weeks last season, they're actually statistically better on offense and defense this year.

"I think we're in a good spot right now," senior wide receiver Mark Santos said. "We just had a slow start. Cumberland Valley is a tough game and Hempfield (is too). But, we faced a little bit of adversity, so, once we got into league play, we started off strong so far and I think as we go through the season, we're going to do a good job."

Making things tougher: Oswalt won't shy away from scheduling a tough non-conference schedule.

He's even open to the idea of making it tougher, by potentially dropping West York in Week 1, a Class 4-A school, in favor of adding another 6-A program.

"I'm not looking for easy roads into (the playoffs)," Oswalt said. "Easy roads lead to losses in the playoffs that could be extremely embarrassing. You gotta earn your right for anything. Nothing is handed to you. ...If anything, I'll look for a strong 6-A opponent in Week 1 before I look to get rid of a 6-A opponent in Week 2 and Week 3."

What lies ahead: Winless New Oxford is up next for Central, followed by Spring Grove, which is just 1-4, with that win coming against the Colonials.

So, the Panthers will most likely be 5-2 through seven weeks, when they really get into the bulk of its Division I schedule.

By that point, Central will need to be playing at its highest level, because the Division I title and a spot in districts will come down to those final three games.

Already with two defeats on the year, the players know that they can't be any worse than 7-3 if they want a shot to make the playoffs. That allows for, at most, just one more slip up in the back half of the season.

But, if the past couple weeks are any indication, then the Panthers look to have found their stride and are on their way to peaking at the right time of the season.

"We're in the same spot we were last year and we were able to make the playoffs last year," Pribula said. "The goal is to win these next five games, go 8-2, get a decent seed in districts and go from there."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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