York Catholic coaches and players talk about the team's recent success that has it in contention to win the Division III title and play in a fifth consecutive District 3 championship game.
Following a Week 4 loss to Delone Catholic, there was no major team meeting.
There was no ultimatum delivered by the York Catholic coaching staff to its players, either.
Just a simple message about what direction the team could take after the Fighting Irish faced their first real adversity in about two years.
After opening the 2017 season with back-to-back wins, York Catholic went on to lose its next two games. The first was a blowout loss to a strong Berks Catholic team, while the second was a more surprising, lackluster performance against the Squires, dropping the Irish to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in York-Adams Division III play.
To put it in perspective, York Catholic had lost as many games in a two-week stretch during Week 3 and Week 4 of 2017 as it did during the entire 2016 campaign.
Something needed to change.
"We were upset with ourselves after losing to Delone and we more or less told them, 'This can draw us closer as a team or we can sink with it,'" head coach Eric DePew said before practice on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
It wouldn't be like the Irish to bow to adversity. At least not under DePew.
So, the team responded. Since the mini-slide, York Catholic has re-established itself as a force in D-III thanks to a four-game win streak.
"It pushed us to work out harder. We run harder, we practice a lot harder than we used to knowing that, from now on, we can't lose," junior linebacker and offensive guard Jarred Kohl said.
Changing quarterbacks: Getting to this point hasn't come easy.
They've undergone a major personnel change, as well as played two of the top D-III teams on the road.
Early in the team's fifth game of the season against Hanover, DePew made a change at quarterback. Starter Wes Burns was lifted in favor of starting running back Kyle Dormer, who had prior experience at QB when he first entered high school.
A team that likes to have that running option at QB, Dormer fits the bill perfectly. He's made the York Catholic offense more dynamic. While he can still throw the ball, the Irish are mostly a run-based attack. Still, even that predictability hasn't allowed opposing defenses to slow them down.
In the four games that Dormer has played at QB, York Catholic has scored 149 points. Some of that has been a product of a defense that's created short fields for the offense. Still, there's no denying the Irish are in more of a groove on offense, and it's reflected in the team's record. It also helps that Dormer has one of the league's biggest offensive lines to protect him. Those linemen go by the nickname, "The Hogs."
"This is probably the most competitive sports team that I've ever been on," Dormer said. "Everyone here just wants to win. Even though we're winning some of these big games, the next week hasn't felt like, 'Oh, we just won that big game.' They want it just that little bit more to keep going and feeling again that gold medal in the district championship or winning our division."
Road warriors: Even with a resurgent offense and defense in place, York Catholic still found itself in an uphill battle, both in D-III and District 3 2-A. Even after defeating Hanover to improve to 3-2, the Irish were third in the District 3 2-A power ratings, with only the top two teams qualifying for the postseason.
On top of that, they were looking up at Delone, Bermudian Springs and Littlestown in the division, with all three sides looking stronger than York Catholic. However, with games still to play against the Thunderbolts and Eagles, the Irish controlled their own destiny to make the district title game and at least earn a share of the D-III crown.
To reach their goals, however, York Catholic would have to win on the road, with a Week 6 contest at 5-0 Littlestown and then a Week 8 battle at Bermudian, which was unbeaten in division play. A 21-14 win over the Thunderbolts was the sign that York Catholic was back in the conversation, while a convincing 41-26 win over the Eagles last Friday, which wasn't as close as the final score might indicate, proved the Irish are very much the real deal again.
"It's a good feeling," Kohl said. "Especially after that tragic loss at home. Every other game we've been to, we know that we can't fail anymore. There's no leeway. We have to beat every team and beat them bad."
Continuing tradition: With two games remaining vs. 4-4 Fairfield this Friday and a Week 10 contest vs. winless York Tech, York Catholic should finish the regular season at 8-2.
It'll assure the Irish of at least grabbing a share of the D-III crown after winning it outright last season. They're also a near lock to play in a fifth consecutive district title game. They currently sit atop the latest 2-A district power ratings
Facing a crossroads early in the season, York Catholic responded to a simple question with two choices presented by the coaching staff.
Now, with two weeks to go in the season, that minor blip in the schedule almost seems like an afterthought, even though it was the pivotal point in the team's season.
Here we are, late in a football season, and the Irish are again in prime contention to be the class of D-III, while again playing for district gold.
"It would be an honor," Kohl said about being part of the team that goes to a fifth consecutive district title game. "Nobody wants to be the team that ruined the five-year streak or the six-year streak or whatever. Nobody wants to be that team in York Catholic history."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org