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
Most of the York-Adams League Division I football talk hasn't been about Northeastern.
The Bobcats finished fifth in the division last season with a 3-4 record, and the four teams ahead of them were considered more likely to fight for the crown this season.
Defending champion York High is regarded as the most talented team in the division. Central York has future NCAA Division I quarterback Cade Pribula breaking records. Dallastown has Nyzair Smith running for 200-plus yards a game. And Red Lion is only two years removed from a D-I title itself.
With only three games left in the season, though, Northeastern (4-3) is in the same spot as all four of those teams — tied for the division lead at 3-1.
“It gives us a lot of motivation,” quarterback Zech Sanderson said of being left out of the D-I title talk. “At the beginning of the season, we set a goal for ourselves to finish every game and shock everyone that we actually can do it. Everyone pushed us aside. We’re not just going to lay over.”
Tough start: The Bobcats started the season 0-2, losing 38-13 to Solanco and 10-6 to Carlisle.
“We started out 0-2, which is not where we’re used to (being), so we put our own motivation on ourselves to get back on track,” head coach Jon Scepanski said.
After a win over Spring Grove to start division play, Northeastern traveled to Dallastown and lost 41-25. The Bobcats trailed 27-25 at halftime but were shut out in the second half, turning the ball over four times in the loss.
“Dallastown wore us out,” Scepanski said. “We made a lot of mistakes that hurt us.”
Upsetting Red Lion: In the biggest upset in the Y-A League this season, the Bobcats then hosted Red Lion, which had previously beaten Central York and later defeated York High, and triumphed 23-16.
Sanderson, who has thrown for 772 yards and six touchdowns this season, said the way the team played in the first half against Dallastown and what the players learned from the second half led to the upset win over Red Lion.
“It gave us more confidence heading into Red Lion,” he said. “We knew in the second half against Red Lion we had to come out fast.”
Scepanski said the Bobcats were able to upset Red Lion because of the team’s energy.
“The kids played their tails off that night,” he said. “I would expect the same the next three weeks.”
New running back: Running back Manny Capo broke out in the win, running for each of Northeastern's three touchdowns. Capo, a sophomore, replaced injured senior starter Frank Brown earlier this season.
“With Frank’s injury, Manny has really stepped up and matured,” Scepanski said. “We saw his ability to be a good football player in the summer and spring. He’s taken the reins to get better each week.”
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Sanderson said. “When he first came in, I knew he was going to be something special. I love Frank to death, but as soon as Manny came in, I didn’t doubt him.”
Central York game: The Bobcats, coming off a 38-16 win over South Western, will face off against Central York Friday night, and the stakes are huge for both teams. The winner stays alive in the Division I title race, while the loser is almost certainly eliminated from contention.
“We still have a big chance of winning out and taking the division,” Sanderson said.
Like every other team facing Central, Scepanski said the Bobcats need to find a way to slow down Pribula, who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns through seven games.
“He’s an outstanding athlete both throwing and running,” Scepanski said. “We have to be able to cover receivers and contain him. He makes plays by himself at times. He’s a big focus for us this week.”
Offensively, Scepanski said the Bobcats must string first downs together to keep Pribula off the field.
“We need to keep the clock in our hands,” he said.
With the match-up being Northeastern’s Homecoming game, combined with a short drive for Central’s fans, Scepanski knows the atmosphere will be different than a typical game.
“It puts a lot of excitement into the game,” he said. “Anytime we play Central, the kids get up for it. There’s a lot of excitement built in, and Homecoming is a part of it, but we have to be able to limit our distractions.”
Following Northeastern’s game against Central York, the Bobcats host York High the following week and end their season at New Oxford.
"We can do this," Sanderson said. "You shouldn’t doubt us. There’s no doubt in us."
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org