VIDEO: Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay discusses his team’s unlikely, fourth-quarter comeback over York High. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer
RED LION — The story for the first 44 minutes and 11 seconds of York High's game against Red Lion Friday night was about the Bearcats' defense.
The unit was maintaining York High's 20-7 lead in the second half, forcing the Lions to turn the ball over in York High territory four times — once by fumble and thrice on downs.
But that was before the last 3 minutes and 49 seconds.
Red Lion quarterback Zach Mentzer and wide receiver Randy Fizer connected for two touchdowns in the closing minutes of the game to pull off an unlikely, fourth-quarter comeback and defeat Division I foe York High, 21-20.
“It’s hard to describe, because it hasn’t really set in to be honest,” Mentzer said. “It’s awesome. The fans, the student section and our band were all awesome, and they’re all supportive of us. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The first touchdown was on a 15-yard out route from Mentzer to Fizer on fourth-and-10. Fizer caught the pass, broke a tackle and juked out two York High defenders for the 40-yard touchdown to put the Lions down 20-14 with 3:26 remaining.
After the Lions recovered Elijah Workinger’s well-placed onside kick, Mentzer drove the team down 56 yards downfield for the score. Mentzer ended the drive with a perfect pass to Fizer on a corner route in the end zone for the 24-yard score with 1:08 left in the game. Workinger’s extra point gave the Lions a 21-20 lead and the win.
“We put ourselves in that panic mode,” York High head coach Russ Stoner said. “It’s football. You’re not always going to score 60 points every game.”
The win for Red Lion (5-2, 3-1) comes only one week after the Lions themselves were upset by Northeastern.
“They’re so good that they’ve been blowing people out, but we’ve been in those tight games and even come up on the wrong side of them,” said Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay. “I think that helped our kids.”
Sloppy start: Most of the game at Horn Field was ugly. Both teams had multiple turnovers. York High (6-1, 3-1), which entered the game undefeated, was penalized 11 times, and Red Lion’s offense couldn’t generate momentum for much of the game.
After Red Lion patiently traveled to midfield on its first drive, Mentzer fumbled – the first of three fumbles in five plays in the odd start to the game. Two plays later, a York High player fumbled, and two plays after that, a Red Lion ball carrier also coughed up the football.
After the turnover party ended, York High drew first blood on a 2-yard QB sneak by Seth Bernstein. The score was set up by a 43-yard run from NCAA Division I recruit Dayjure Stewart.
Red Lion answered three minutes later with a 55-yard touchdown pass from Mentzer to Ben Hornberger, who was wide open after a double move on third-and-9.
Bearcats pull away: York High scored again in the way the Bearcats usually do – a big play. Stewart dashed 73 yards for the touchdown to put the Bearcats up 14-7 in the second quarter.
“Dayjure Stewart is the best running back I have seen down in this league since I’ve been here the last six years,” Shay said. “Hands down. No question.”
Neither team scored again until two-thirds the way through the third quarter, when the Bearcats scored on another big play. The Bearcats executed a trick play when Bernstein handed off to Stewart, who gave the ball to Rideout, and the senior wideout ran 80 yards for the score.
The ensuing extra point was wide left, and York High took a 20-7 lead.
“That was huge,” Stoner said. “We can’t miss extra points. Those are supposed to be gimmes.”
Workinger, Red Lion’s kicker, made all three extra point attempts.
“In high school, football kicking is not like you see in the NFL; it’s not automatic,” Shay said. “We won a game because we made an extra point. As great as both teams were tonight, the game came down to an extra point.”
Bearcat struggles: York High’s offense in the second half – aside from Rideout’s touchdown – was ineffective. The typically high-powered offense was sputtered by penalties, negative-yardage plays and a turnover that put the defense in bad spots. The Red Lion defense held Stewart – the best running back in the York-Adams League – to negative one yard on nine carries in the second half.
“Holding York High to 20 points when they’ve been averaging 60 is so good out of our defense,” Mentzer said. “They prepared so hard. They watched a ton of film this week.”
Until the final four minutes, the Bearcats’ defense continued to bail out the offense. Despite great field position for Red Lion’s offense, the York High defense continued to bend but not break.
“We just needed one play, one broken coverage, one broken tackle, and all of a sudden, it’s 20-14,” Shay said. “That’s what was in my head the whole time. Just give us one.”
The comeback: The last turnover on downs seemed to seal the victory for the Bearcats with York High owning a 13-point lead with about five minutes remaining and possession. A few plays into the drive, however, Workinger’s helmet forced a York High ball carrier to fumble on his own 40-yard line to give the Lions life.
After Mentzer’s two touchdown passes, York High took over on its own 20-yard line with 1:08 left and zero timeouts. Only one of York High’s four plays at the end of the game went for positive yards, with the last ending in a recovered Red Lion fumble, and Mentzer capped off the comeback victory with two kneel-downs.
“I am incredibly blessed to be a part of this community,” Shay said. “... I’m humbled that I get to be the head coach at a place like this right now.”
D-I outlook: The upset has thrown a wrench into the Division I standings. Five teams are now tied for first place with a 3-1 D-I record: York High (6-1, 3-1), Red Lion (5-2, 3-1), Central York (6-1, 3-1), Dallastown (4-3, 3-1), Northeastern (4-3, 3-1).
York High 7 7 6 0 — 20
Red Lion 7 0 0 14 — 21
Red Lion: Ben Hornberger 55-yard pass from Zach Mentzer (Elijah Workinger kick), 2:08 (YH 7, RL 7)
York High: Dayjure Stewart 73-yard run (Rodriguez kick), 6:47 (YH 14, RL 7)
York High: Rob Rideout 80-yard run (kick missed), 4:26 (YH 20, RL 7)
Total offense: 324 yards
Sacks: 3 for 19
Total offense: 403 yards
Sacks: 1 sack for 8 yards
Seth Bernstein: 4-7 passing, 82 yards, INT; 3 carries, -5 yards, TD (sacked once for -8 yards)
Dayjure Stewart: 0-1 passing; 22 carries 160 yards, TD; 1 reception, 52 yards
Rob Rideout: 2 receptions, 26 yards; 3 carries, 87 yards, TD
Tino Conquest: 1 reception, 4 yards; 2 rushes, 3 yards
Tobee Stokes: 3 carries, -3 yards
Zach Mentzer: 16-29 passing, 240 yards, 3 TDs; 12 carries, 53 yards (sacked three times for -19 yards)
Tyler Ness: 28 carries, 94 yards; 6 receptions, 52 yards
Randy Fizer: 7 receptions, 117 yards, 2 TDs; 2 carries, 14 yards
Ben Hornberger: 3 receptions, 71 yards, TD
Devyn Gurreri: 1 carry, 2 yards
Nic Shultz: 0-1 passing
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com