York High head coach Russ Stoner discusses his team's 22-6 win over Shippensburg in the District 3 Class 5-A quarterfinals. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer
York High has been challenged by several different offensive systems this season.
The Bearcats have faced a run-heavy Dallastown, a pass-heavy Central York and a run-pass option scheme at Red Lion. So the Bearcats have seen almost everything.
After Friday night, York High’s young defense may have seen everything.
The No. 6-seeded Bearcats travel to Lancaster County to take on second-seeded Cocalico in the District 3 Class 5-A semifinals. The Eagles (9-2) run a veer offense, a run-heavy scheme the Bearcats haven’t faced this season.
“We haven’t played a veer offense this season, but we have played teams that do similar things, like Red Lion, who tries to keep it away from you and then pounds it,” York High head coach Russ Stoner said. “It’s an offense that is based on ball control. They have as much of a big-play offense as we do.”
Stoner and the rest of his coaching staff went to Cocalico’s 36-0 quarterfinal win over Solanco last Saturday, a day after York High (11-1) defeated Shippensburg, 22-6.
“The first thing is you quickly realize when you watch them is how good of a football program they have,” Stoner said. “They have a great coaching staff that’s been there a long time. They have tough, hard-nosed players. They’ve been in the district semifinals 11 times. They’ve won a couple district championships, and if they’re not in a conference with Manheim Central, they would probably have a lot more division championships.”
Stopping the veer: Stoner said the key to slowing down Cocalico’s veer is containing quarterback Noah Palm. The junior signal caller has rushed for 957 yards and 20 touchdowns on 104 carries in the regular season, while also throwing for 11 scores without an interception.
“The quarterback is their guy,” Stoner said. “He does a great job of running their offense. He stirs their drink. At the end of the day, we have to play assignment football and rally to the ball.”
The Eagles totaled 2,943 yards in their first 10 games, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. Running backs Garrett Longenecker (933 yards and eight touchdowns) and Ronald Zahm (507 yards and six scores) are the main ball carriers behind Palm.
“They’ve been running the veer for 30 years,” Stoner said. “Their offensive line obviously knows what they’re doing with running the veer. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us Friday night.”
With the main tenet of the veer offense being discipline from the quarterback and the offensive line, the way to stop the scheme is by being disciplined on defense, Stoner said.
“You can’t fall asleep,” Stoner said. “They’ll hit a big pass play because they run the ball so much. They’ll dive, dive, dive and then the quarterback will keep it. It’s just a matter of us rallying to the football and putting our eyes where our eyes belong and not get fooled. And we have to tackle.”
While Stoner said his players do have experience defending the veer in previous seasons or in 7-on-7 drills, he added that having his scout team offense run the veer is a challenge.
“That presents an issue,” Stoner said. “There are lots of things we did this week to prepare for the game. You can’t exactly emulate it, but we’ll get as close as we can. At the end of the day, this is the time of the year when it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about Jimmy’s and Joe’s. If we’re good enough and we compete, we’ll be happy with the results on Friday night.”
About Cocalico: While a York High win would put the Bearcats in their first-ever District 3 title game, the Eagles are in anything but uncharted territory.
Playing in the same division as perennial powerhouse Manheim Central, Cocalico last appeared in a district title game in 2014 and owns a 22-17 overall record in district playoff games. The Eagles won D-3 titles in 1985 and 1994.
The Eagles will enter their home game against the Bearcats on a five-game winning streak, during which they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 35.8 points per game. Cocalico’s only two losses were to two of the best programs in the district — an 18-point loss to Manheim Central and a 12-point defeat by Manheim Township.
Win over Shippensburg: Stoner said the win over Shippensburg last Friday — in which the Bearcats trailed at halftime for the first time all season but scored 22 unanswered in the second half — is emblematic of how far the Bearcats have come in the last three years.
After a winless 2015 season and a 1-9 2016 campaign, York High has claimed at least a share of back-to-back York-Adams League Division I titles and made the district playoffs in both seasons. This year, the Bearcats are having their best season since 1988, when the program last appeared in a district semifinal.
“We competed every play” Stoner said. “If you want to be a program that plays in the playoffs each year, your kids have to realize they have to play hard on every play, and we took a huge step in that direction last Friday.”
Possible bad weather: Like it’s been the last two Friday nights, the weather doesn’t look pretty for this match-up on Cocalico’s grass field.
Current forecasts are calling for some snow on Thursday, with rain in the morning on Friday.
“Last year, in the first round of the playoffs, it was 17 degrees at kickoff,” Stoner said. “We’re not getting any colder than last year, and we’re not getting any wetter than the first round this year (against Northern York). It is what it is, and we’ll play on a parking lot if we need to.”
CLASS 3-A FINAL
No. 5 Bermudian Springs (9-3) vs. No. 2 Middletown (10-1) at Cedar Crest High School, 7 p.m. Friday: The Eagles are one win away from their first district title since 1998.
Bermudian was a big underdog last week against top-seeded Lancaster Catholic, pulling off a 20-10 victory. Middletown, meanwhile, is looking to win a third straight district title.
This match-up is a rematch of last season’s first-round district playoff game, which the Blue Raiders won 42-7. The game was tied 7-7 early in the second half, but Middletown scored 35 straight for the blowout.
The Blue Raiders sport an offense with two 1,000-yard rushers: Jose Lopez (1,529 yards) and Richie Sykes (1,070 yards).
Note: York Catholic, the District 3 Class 2-A champion, is not playing this coming weekend.
The Fighting Irish will play the winner of the Mount Carmel-Southern Columbia game in the first round of the PIAA state playoffs the following weekend.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com.