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After Dover’s football practice Tuesday, head coach Wayne Snelbaker tried to give his 4-2 team a message heading into its last four York-Adams Division II games.
“We could be 4-6,” he told his players. “Or we could be 8-2.”
The Eagles started the season 0-2 but have rallied for four straight victories. They are one of three teams with perfect D-II records, along with with Gettysburg and York Suburban. Division II was expected to be wide open this season, and while it’s condensed a bit, each coach knows no game is a sure victory.
“It’ll get through to them,” Snelbaker said. “They’re an older group. They understand it.”
Rough start: Snelbaker said the 0-2 start didn’t hurt his team’s confidence. The Eagles, led by 20 seniors, also went 0-2 last season and finished the season one win away from a co-D-II title.
“We have a lot of seniors and they were through it last year,” Snelbaker said. “We started 0-2 last year and then went through and lost the last game of the year for the division.”
Dover lost a one-score game to Shippensburg to open the season and then lost by 21 the following week to Elizabethtown.
“We’ve been confident since summer,” quarterback Justin Johnson said. “We were prepared for the beginning of the season, but we didn’t play as well as we could.”
Turning it around: Snelbaker said the turning point of the season was in the second half of the Elizabethtown loss. The Eagles were outscored by three scores in the first half, and Snelbaker decided to change the team’s offensive mindset to “pound the football.”
“We just came out and instead of throwing the ball we said we would test out the manhood and see if we could run the ball,” Snelbaker said. “We wanted to get our identity back, and once we did that, we got the confidence back in the kids.”
The Eagles played right with E-Town in the second half and then won four straight against Red Land, Susquehannock, Eastern York and Kennard-Dale.
“We knew we’d bounce back for the rest of the season,” said wide receiver Dallas Evans. “You need to have a short memory.”
Through six games, Dover has five players with more than 30 rushing attempts. Leading the backfield is Derek Arevalo, who has 472 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Also in the rotation are Bryce Miller (375 yards and five touchdowns), Brandon Lawyer (275 yards and three touchdowns), Cameron Fetrow (246 yards and three touchdowns) and Johnson (170 yards and four touchdowns).
“It’s several different kids running the ball, which is good because it allows the guys to stay more fresh and wear the defense down,” Snelbaker said.
Unconventional quarterback: While the Eagles are more run-focused, the team can still pass the ball.
As the leader of the Eagles’ offense, Johnson isn’t the typical quarterback.
He doesn’t play defense, he said, but his other position on Dover’s roster is linebacker. Johnson is a dual-threat signal caller and uses his stocky 5-foot 10-inch, 210-pound frame to his advantage.
“When I was younger, I played running back my first couple of years,” Johnson said. “I went to a new team and they wanted me to play quarterback, so I changed how I played. I can run, but I can also throw if I need to.”
Johnson has thrown for 860 yards and six touchdowns in Dover’s first six games.
Snelbaker said Johnson’s best tool as a quarterback is his “smarts.”
“We give him (the freedom) of being able to call some things when he’s out there,” Snelbaker said. “That’s part of being smart. And the kids like him, and that gets them to do a little more for you.”
New wide receiver: If a man’s best friend is a dog, a quarterback’s best friend is a play-making wideout.
This season, Johnson has that in Evans, who transferred from Catonsville, Maryland, this year.
“I’ve never had so much confidence in another quarterback before,” Evans said. “I’ve never had a quarterback like him who can get the ball to people.”
Evans has caught 16 passes this season for 391 yards and three touchdowns. His 391 yards rank sixth in the York-Adams League and his 24.4 yards-per-reception average is third among qualified receivers.
“Dallas is a great receiver,” Johnson said. “He’s fast, he can catch and if I need a big play, I know I can trust him.”
In Evans’ first season with Dover, Snelbaker said the senior has acclimated exactly how a coach would hope.
“He’s been nothing but enjoyable,” Snelbaker said. “Sometimes when you have a new kid, they’re so far behind that if you have them another year it would be better. He’s a smart kid, and he’s coachable.”
Dover has a key match-up against Suburban on Friday night. The winner of the game will remain unbeaten in the division and likely be headed for a title showdown vs. Gettysburg.
“We’re confident,” Evans said. “We know we can do it. We just have to put in the work.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.