RED LION — At no point in Friday night's Week 8 game did the Central York football team feel like it was out of it against Red Lion.
Not when the Panthers fumbled the ball deep in the Lions' territory early in the fourth quarter and already down a score. Or, even when Red Lion took that fumble and turned it into a touchdown on a 97-yard drive to go up by two scores midway through the fourth.
All Central York did was believe in itself and stay the course. What ensued was a comeback for the ages.
The Panthers ripped off 17 unanswered points to stun the Lions at Horn Field, earning a 24-21 victory to grab sole possession of first place in York-Adams League Division I.
"There was not one moment when I thought we weren't going to win the game," Central York head coach Josh Oswalt said. "...We talked about it being a 48-minute game the whole way through and I think it took all 48 minutes to get to the end."
The comeback: Going into the fourth quarter, Red Lion (7-1, 4-1 Div. I) held a slim 14-7 lead, but saw the Panthers (6-2, 5-0 Div. I) driving deep into their territory. It looked like Central was going to tie the game up there, but, a fumble at the five yard line gave back the ball to the Lions.
After a false start pushed Red Lion back to its own three, the Lions put together one of their patented back-breaking drives. Over the course of the next four minutes, the Lions moved the ball down the field, capped by a Zach Crossland 26-yard touchdown down the near sideline to put Red Lion on top, 21-7 with seven minutes, eight seconds to play.
A usual back-breaking drive to most teams is not what it was to the Panthers.
Instead, Central responded, answering the touchdown with one of its own, as Cade Pribula called his own number on a quarterback keeper from five yards out to make it a 21-14 game with 4:14 to play.
That was only the beginning.
"Come-from-behind wins, we're used to it now," Pribula said. "So, we don't get scared. We don't fold in big situations. We have the players to make big plays when we need them."
On the Lions' next possession, a quick three-and-out forced them to punt. But, a bad snap went over the punter's head, forcing him to punch it out of the back of the endzone, leading to a safety. With 2:32 to play, the Panthers were down, 21-16, and about to get back the ball.
With a chance to win the game, Central came out rather methodical to begin the drive. After a pair of runs set up third and four and time ticking, Pribula connected on a 50-yard pass to Tim Sturgis, setting up the Panthers inside the Red Lion redzone. A pass interference penalty in the endzone on the next play set up Central with first and goal from the seven.
Pribula scrambled down to the three and, one play later, Hunter Werner capped off the drive, the comeback and the victory with a three-yard run to put the Panthers up a point with 18 seconds to play. A two-point conversion made it 24-21.
"It feels unbelievably great. It's amazing," Werner said about scoring the game-winning touchdown. "I just had the mindset that I needed to get into the endzone. I wanted to win the game for my team. We did it together."
Red Lion ran a few quick plays to try and put together a miracle, but never got going. The final play was a short pass to Crossland, who tried to start the lateral game, but the ball eventually bounced out of bounds, ending the contest.
"Let it hurt for a little bit," Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay said about his message to the team. "What I told them was, 'If it doesn't hurt, it means you don't care.' So, it's supposed to hurt and the best news I could tell them is that we get to play football again on Friday night."
Slow start: In the first half, it took both offenses a quarter to get going.
While both teams have come to be defined by their big-play offenses, it was the defenses that stole the show early on.
The game was scoreless through one quarter, with neither side really putting together a sustained drive. However, early in the second quarter, Red Lion finally broke through, capped by a three-yard touchdown run by quarterback Zach Throne to put the hosts in front, 7-0.
Central York immediately answered with its best drive of the first half, going 85 yards to even the score. It was Pribula answering his counterpart's rushing TD with one of his own, scampering in from seven yards out to make it 7-7 with 1:05 to go in the first half.
It looked like the score was going to stay that way going into the break, however, a blown assignment and personal foul penalty against Central allowed the Lions to put together one final possession.
Red Lion made it count, with Throne connecting on a four-yard pass to Denny Dennison with just 12 seconds to play in the second quarter, making it 14-7 Lions going into halftime.
Big defensive stops: With the score just before the halftime break, Red Lion was poised to do the double-score, scoring just before halftime, then getting the ball to start the third quarter and scoring again.
However, a long drive that chewed up more than half of the third quarter stalled inside the Panthers' 10 after a false start penalty. A 25-yard field goal was then blocked by Central to give it the big stop it needed to stay within seven.
The Lions answered the Panthers' hold with one of their own, when they forced the fumble deep in their own territory, setting up the 97-yard scoring drive.
With the win, Central now sits alone atop the Division I standings with a pair of games left against two teams tied for second in the division — Dallastown and York High.
"It comes down to the leaders of this team," Oswalt said about staying focused after the emotional win and not having a letdown. "They won't allow stuff like that to happen. ...We have so much more we can get better at and they're excited for that."
As for Red Lion, it now faces unfamiliar territory.
The loss was the program's first regular season defeat dating back to Week 6 of 2015, a string of 21 consecutive wins.
"I don't think we were ever the most athletic team, or things like that. We just worked very hard and fought for each other," Shay said about the streak. "So, it's exactly what we're going to talk about doing on Monday in practice. We're not going to change things."
CENTRAL YORK 24, RED LION 21
Central York_0_14_0_0 —14
Red Lion_0_7_0_17 —24
RL - Throne 3-yard run (Workinger kick), 9:12
CY - Pribula 7-yard run (Basile kick), 1:05
RL - Dennison 4-yard catch (Workinger kick), :12
RL - Crossland 26-yard catch (Workinger kick), 7:08
CY - Pribula 5-yard run (Basile kick), 4:14
CY - Safety, 2:32
CY - Werner 3-yard run (Sturgis 2-point conversion), :18
First Downs: CY, 19. RL, 18
Rushes-Yards: CY, 36-153. RL, 40-249
Passing Yards: CY, 161. RL, 99
Completions-Attempts-INTs: CY, 10-16-1. RL, 14-20-0
Penalties-Yards: CY, 10-110. RL, 7-57
Punts-Average: CY, 3-31.7. RL, 2-34
Fumbles/Lost: CY 1-1. RL, 2-1.
RUSHING: CY, Pribula 14-86. Werner 15-46. Van Dyke 7-21. RL, Throne 28-181. Crossland 7-35. Ness 4-23. Dennison 1-10.
PASSING: CY, Pribula 10-16-161, 0 TD. RL, Throne 14-20-99, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING: CY, Santiago 5-75. Sturgis 2-62. Krentz 1-17. Werner 2-7. RL, Dennison 3-48. Crossland 2-33. Ness 7-13. Workinger 2-5.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com