MANHEIM — York High's best football season in at least 30 years ended on a disappointing note.
The biggest question coming into York High's District 3 Class 5-A playoff game against Cocalico was whether the Bearcats could slow down the Eagles' veer offense.
Cocalico (11-2) ran for 453 yards Saturday at Manheim Central's Elden Rettew Stadium to advance to the district title game with a 61-35 win.
“They’re fantastic,” said York High head coach Russ Stoner about Cocalico. “The four teams that are left in districts are unbelievable programs. If Manheim Central’s not in their conference, (Cocalico) is who everyone would be talking about. They’ve had two coaches in the last 50 years. It’s crazy. They’re very good. When you don’t face something like that, it’s hard to emulate it at practice and they run it better than (anyone).”
Cocalico "more physical: Dayjure Stewart, who plays safety on defense, said Cocalico was the more “physical” team.
“Their running game, we worked on it all week. But film is different than the opponent you see on the field,” Stewart said. “They overpowered us.”
The semifinal appearance marks the furthest the Bearcats have gone in the district playoffs since 1988, when the team’s berth automatically put them in the semis.
“It sucks to put our season away,” Stoner said. “But I think we did some great things today and made some great plays. At the end of the day, the county of York and the city of York can be proud of what we did today.”
Stewart eclipses 3,000 yards: Stewart, York High’s starting running back, ran for 118 yards, eclipsing the 3,000-yard mark on the season. The senior entered the game with 2,927 yards after breaking the league's single-season rushing record last week against Shippensburg.
“I wanted to win more than get 3,000 yards,” Stewart said.
Stewart, this season's York-Adams League Offensive Player of the Year, ended his senior campaign with 3,045 rushing yards and 40 total touchdowns.
“To have a kid go for over 3,000 yards in a season, like the coach from Cocalico said, ‘I’ve never even heard anything like that,’” Stoner said. “That’s gigantic. But even Dayjure would say, ‘I don’t go over 3,000 yards without my offensive line, my receivers blocking and my quarterback.’ That’s a team 3,000 yards.”
Back-and-forth start: The match-up was an even affair in the first half, as both offenses went back and forth on scoring drives.
York High (11-2) opened the game with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Seth Bernstein to Rob Rideout. The Eagles responded with a 4-play touchdown drive, ending with a 1-yard QB sneak by Noah Palm.
Palm orchestrated Cocalico’s vaunted veer offense to near perfection. The Eagles punted only once and did not turn the ball over.
“We tried to give them different looks, but (head coach Dave Gingrich) has been here 28 years, and they’ve seen every look you possibly can,” Stoner said. “We tried to change what we did so their kids had to change too. They have a stud quarterback, a stud running back and an offensive line that understands what they’re doing.”
Bernstein’s solid performance: Bernstein and Rideout connected again six minutes later on a 23-yard passing score to put the Bearcats back up 14-7.
Once the contest was moved from Cocalico’s muddy grass field to Manheim Central’s turf surface, Stoner said the game plan switched to one that included more passing. Bernstein had one of the best games of his season, completing 12 of 20 pass attempts for 199 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 61 yards with his legs.
Palm leads Cocalico offense: In contrast, the Eagles only threw three passes all afternoon, with the first being a 34-yard strike from Palm to Austin Landers for a 34-yard score to tie the game.
Cocalico scored again midway through the second quarter on a 34-yard scamper by Palm. The junior signal caller finished the day with 148 yards rushing.
“Noah knows exactly what he’s doing,” Stoner said.
Trick play gives Cocalico momentum: Bernstein tied the game on a 9-yard score with 54 seconds left in the first half. It seemed as if the Bearcats would have the momentum rolling into halftime, but the Eagles scored on a trick play only 24 seconds later to take the one score lead. Carson Nash, a sophomore wide receiver and backup quarterback, took a reverse handoff and threw a perfect pass to Ben Sola for a 46-yard score.
“Obviously, everybody has those (trick plays) ready in the playoffs,” Stoner said. “We were playing man coverage, and they threw the ball to the tight end who literally never goes out for a pass.”
Cocalico scores 35 unanswered: The Eagles then exploded to start the second half with 28 straight points, giving them 35 unanswered, to take a 55-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Cocalico’s three scores in the third quarter were from 21, 29 and 54 yards out. Fullback Cody Shay chugged for a 21-yard touchdown, Palm dashed for a 29-yard score and Garrett Longenecker broke free for a 56-yard touchdown. Longenecker, the fullback in the Eagles’ veer, ran for 222 yards on his 23 dive handoffs.
“We started pounding the ball outside and then cut to the middle,” Longenecker said. “We changed it up on the them. Noah was making really good reads, and our line was giving us a great push. I think we played our offense, and it really worked out for us.”
Longenecker said the Eagles were confident once they realized they were able to contain York High’s high-powered offense.
“We knew their running back was a good player,” Longenecker said about Stewart. “He’s one of the best players we’ve seen all year, and we knew we had to contain him. … Once we realized we could stop him and all their athletes, we knew we could play our game.”
Garbage time touchdowns: After Ronald Zahm intercepted a Bernstein pass late in the third quarter, the junior then scored on a 3-yard rush.
Bernstein threw for his third score a few minutes later, but it was Stewart who did the hard work. The 6-foot, 200-pound running back took a swing pass 25 yards for the score.
Palm then scored his fourth rushing touchdown, this time from 44 yards out.
York High running back Tobee Stokes, who is also the Bearcats’ backup quarterback, capped the game’s scoring with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Jamison.
York High 14 7 0 14 — 35
Cocalico 14 14 21 12 — 61
York High: Rob Rideout 49-yard pass from Seth Bernstein (Brayan Rivero kick), 10:45 (YH 7, C 0)
Cocalico: Noah Palm 1-yard run (Daniel Engle kick), 9:42 (YH 7, C 7)
Cocalico: Austin Landers 34-yard pass from Palm (Engle kick), 0:26 (YH 14, C 14)
Cocalico: Palm 34-yard run (Engle kick), 7:02 (C 21, YH 14)
Cocalico: Ben Sola 46-yard pass from Carson Nash (Engle kick), 0:30 (C 28, YH 21)
Cocalico: Palm 29-yard run (Engle kick), 5:52 (C 42, YH 21)
Cocalico: Garrett Longenecker 56-yard run (Engle kick), 1:46 (C 49, YH 21)
Cocalico: Palm 44-yard run (kick blocked), 2:59 (C 61, YH 28)
York High: Anthony Jamison 53-yard pass from Tobee Stokes (Rivero kick), 1:48 (C 61, YH 35)
Team stats: 497 yards (299 passing, 198 rushing)
Total offense: 533 yards (453 rushing, 80 passing)
Seth Bernstein: 12-20 passing, 199 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 6 carries, 61 yards, TD
Dayjure Stewart: 25 carries, 118 yards; 2 receptions, 55 yards, TD
Rob Rideout: 4 receptions, 126 yards, 2 TDs; 3 carries, 5 yards
Anthony Jamison: 3 receptions, 77 yards, TD
Tobee Stokes: 2-2 passing, 100 yards, TD; 3 carries, 14 yards; 3 receptions, 25 yards
Tino Conquest: 2 receptions, 16 yards
Noah Palm: 1-2 passing, 34 yards, TD; 10 carries, 148 yards, 4 TDs
Garrett Longenecker: 23 carries, 222 yards, TD
Ronald Zahm: 4 carries, 40 yards, TD; INT
Cody Shay: 4 carries, 34 yards, TD
Austin Landers: 1 reception, 34 yards
Ben Sola: 1 reception, 46 yards, TD
Carson Nash, 1-1 passing, 46 yards, TD
Craig Neal: 3 carries, 9 yards
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org