Dover football team aims to cap bounce-back season with York-Adams Division II title

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch
  • Dover will play for the Division II championship on Friday night against Susquehannock.
  • The Eagles and Warriors both enter the showdown at 5-0 in division play. They're the only unbeaten D-II teams.
  • Dover hasn't won a division title since 2013.

The Dover football team moved around the practice field on Tuesday, Oct. 31, with a sense of urgency.

Dover's Derek Arevalo, top, celebrates scoring a touchdown with Shad Murphy during a game at Kennard-Dale Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.  The Eagles will face Susquehannock in Week 10 in a battle of the only two unbeaten teams in league play for the outright Division II championship. Bill Kalina photo

With just a few practices left in the 2017 season, these workouts are vitally important for the Eagles. This Week 10 isn't like the past couple, when there was little to play for except finishing out the regular season with a win.

This year has been different for Dover. It began around Week 3 and gained momentum ever since. Now, come Friday night, the Eagles will play for the York-Adams League Division II championship.

"The last two years, as far as these seniors have gone, have really bought their time to get here," Dover head coach Wayne Snelbaker said. "Now that it's here, it's kind of cool watching them walk into the reality of it and just watch them get excited for it."

Big Week 10: The Eagles will play in one of three high-stakes games in the Y-A League to close out the regular season. Their game at Susquehannock will determine the Division II outright champion, with both teams entering at 5-0 in division play. The other two pit Red Lion at Dallastown and Central York at York High. The winners of those games will share the Division I crown.

Barring a major upset in Division III, with either York Catholic or Littlestown losing, Division II will be the only division this year to crown an outright champion. So, it's fitting that, in a year when the Eagles and the Warriors separated themselves from the rest of the D-II pack, they're meeting in the final week of the regular season to decide it all.

Dover quarterback Justin Johnson (19) runs the ball during Dover at Kennard-Dale football game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. Johnson began the season third on the depth chart at quarterback for the Eagles, but a pair of injuries to the first two quarterbacks thrusted the sophomore into the starting role. Bill Kalina photo

"This definitely gives me an edge to come out and play a little bit harder than I usually do," Eagles senior linebacker and running back Marcus Howell said. "Especially with it being a division championship on the line for us."

Separating from the pack: The last time Dover won a division title was back in 2013, before any of the seniors on this year's team were even in high school.

Entering the season, the Eagles appeared to be one of the favorites in an otherwise wide-open D-II. Many of their seniors already had two years of varsity experience, while the majority of the team was made up of talented underclassmen.

After a slow start to the season in which Dover lost its first two games, it caught fire just ahead of division play and only got hotter during the bulk of its D-II slate. Despite injuries to quarterbacks Brayton West and Dawson Jesmer, sophomore Justin Johnson came in and didn't miss a beat.

The two-headed rushing duo of juniors Derek Arevalo and Brandon Lawyer has been a force for opposing defenses to handle, with the two totaling 1,443 yards on the ground.

Since the 0-2 start to the year, the Eagles have won six of their last seven games, with that lone loss being their final non-league game in Week 7. Dover has shown that no amount of youth or injuries could derail it from trying to accomplish the first goal on its preseason list, which was to win a division championship.

"The team coming together and being a family is probably the biggest aspect," senior lineman Chase Heath said. "The last couple years, we've been apart and haven't been one team and this year we really worked together and got each other's best aspects and worked hard together."

Dover's Brandon Lawyer (2) runs during the Week 9 game against West York on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Lawyer is part of a running back duo with Derek Arevalo that has combined for more than 1,400 yards on the ground for the Eagles. Bill Kalina photo

A lot on the line: In theory, Susquehannock will probably have more to play for on Friday night than the Eagles.

At the moment, Dover sits 10th in the District 3 Class 5-A power ratings, needing a win and a lot of help to crack the top eight and get into the postseason. However, the Warriors are sixth in 4-A and know a win will assure them of playoff football for the first time in a decade, while a loss will make them sweat out their fate.

Snelbaker understands that the Eagles extending their season past 10 games is a long shot. Even with a loss, the 6-4 record would be the best mark Dover has had in three seasons under Snelbaker and its best since that 2013 team.

Wins, however, can only measure a team's progress so much. Eventually, division championships and district appearances need to be part of a team's tradition, and usually they go hand in hand. That might not be the case for the Eagles this year, but it's still an opportunity for Dover to put itself on the map.

"We want to get the division championship," Snelbaker said. "We've talked about it since last January about setting our goals to do that, and districts was that second step of it. But, really, to take our program further ahead, we've really got to get this one and start putting ourselves on the map a little bit."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at