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
High school football games don’t have win expectancy charts like higher-level games do on ESPN.
If they did, though, Red Lion’s chances of beating York High (6-1, 3-1) Friday night was likely less than 5 percent when the clock hit the four-minute mark. Red Lion (5-2, 3-1) trailed undefeated York High 20-7, and the Bearcats’ high-powered offense was driving.
What happened next is something Red Lion players will never forget, and York High players wish they could forget.
Workinger’s forced fumble: The biggest play of the comeback is one that will go unnoticed, considering what followed.
The Bearcats were driving downfield and taking time off the clock, until middle linebacker Eli Workinger put his helmet on the ball of a York High runner and forced a fumble that Ben Hornberger recovered at the York High 40-yard line.
“We just needed one play, one broken coverage, one broken tackle, and all of a sudden, it’s 20-14,” Red Lion head coach Jesse Shay said. “That’s what was in my head the whole time. Just give us one.”
First touchdown: While Workinger’s forced fumble was a crucial play, it wasn’t the turning point of the game.
That was Mentzer’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Randy Fizer.
Mentzer’s first three passes of the drive were all incomplete, and it looked as if the Bearcats would force another Red Lion turnover on downs.
The senior signal caller completed a 15-yard pass to Fizer, who broke a tackle to break free in the secondary. The sophomore quarterback-turned-wideout then juked out two York High defensive backs to restore the Lions’ chances of winning with still 3:29 left to play.
“There are some kids who just rise to the occasion. Randy Fizer as a sophomore is one of those young men,” Shay said. “That kid had a special game against the most athletic secondary we will see all year.”
Workinger’s onside kick: Workinger is known as one of the best linebackers and fullbacks in the York-Adams League, but teams also know about his standout skills as a kicker.
Workinger produced an excellent onside kick that senior George Stuck recovered. The Lions could’ve still won the game if they got a stop on York High’s next drive, but the onside kick made the victory more likely.
“That was a beautiful kick,” Shay said.
Mentzer leads touchdown drive: The Lions recovered the onside kick on their own 44-yard line, but with about three minutes left on the clock, the team was able to mix in running plays instead of just passing.
Mentzer, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 240 yards and three scores on the night, started the drive with a 14-yard run and then completed a 12-yard pass to Hornberger, who caught a touchdown earlier in the game.
The Lions then faced a third-and-7 on York High’s 27-yard line. Mentzer scrambled six yards, coming up a yard short of the first down. On fourth-and-1, Mentzer kept the ball on a run-option and was stopped at the line of scrimmage. His second effort got him narrowly past the first-down marker, keeping the drive alive.
“After last week, the O-line really understood they needed to do a better job,” said Mentzer, comparing the unit’s performance to the team’s loss to Northeastern the week before. “Tonight, they did a great job.”
Second touchdown: A penalty pushed the Lions back to the 39-yard line on the next play, but Mentzer put the offense back in striking distance with a 15-yard scramble to set up a 24-yard touchdown pass to Fizer to win the game.
“Mentzer is such an underrated quarterback,” Fizer said. “Defenses don’t respect him. Mentzer has been such a smart player. I’ve learned a lot from him. He keeps his poise throughout the game, and he carried this team to a victory.”
Fizer, who caught seven passes for 117 and two touchdowns, ran a corner route in the end zone, beating the cornerback who bit on the beginning of his route. Mentzer knew he had to throw a perfect pass that only Fizer could catch, because York High star Dayjure Stewart was the high safety on the play.
“I know Dayjure is such a great athlete that even if he gets beat it’s still going to be close,” Mentzer said. “I had faith in Randy to outrun him. Once he turned up field, it’s live or die here right here.”
Workinger’s extra point with 1:08 left was dead-center, and the Lions defense stopped the Bearcats on the ensuing drive for the victory.
Shay said Mentzer’s pass to Fizer is an illustration of something he’s been saying all season about Mentzer: “He’s a gamer.”
“When you watch him in practice, he practices hard. But something changes on Friday night,” Shay said. “The ball is a little bit tighter and it goes a little farther. He just (thrives) in these situations.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org