Four years ago, Russ Stoner sat in the stands during York High’s homecoming game as a fan among a crowd he said was smaller than the number of players on the field.
Friday night, York High (5-2) defeated Red Lion (4-3), 18-0, with two local TV affiliates in attendance and the game being live streamed online and broadcast on TV, while the stands were filled with fans eagerly awaiting the highly anticipated contest.
The 0-10 team that the York High coach inherited when he took over the program in 2016 has transformed into one of the best teams in York-Adams League Division I. Stoner took a moment to reflect on the strides the Bearcats have made in recent seasons after the win.
“You’re proud of what your football program has been able to accomplish, going into our fourth year,” Stoner said. “The community backs us. York County backs us. It’s just an awesome thing for our kids to experience — playing in meaningful football games.”
Revenge game: For the Bearcats (now 4-0 in York-Adams Division I), there may not have been a more meaningful game on their schedule than the meeting with the Lions. Almost a year ago to the day, Red Lion scored 14 points in the final minutes of the game to win the battle, 21-20.
That loss was fresh on the minds of the Bearcats players this week, even if the coaching staff wasn’t using it for motivation. York High junior running back and linebacker Aaron Johnson said the team used the loss as fuel to prepare for the pivotal game during the week.
“That really put the chip on us,” Johnson said. “This whole week we’ve been working nonstop, just going at it. They’ve been winning a lot these past few years so we (had) to stop that this year, so we got after it this week.”
Stopping the playmaker: The key to beating Red Lion on Friday night was shutting down junior Red Lion wide receiver Randy Fizer. The playmaker scored both touchdowns that pushed the Lions past the Bearcats in last year’s contest en route to 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
In the 2019 meeting between the teams, it was a different story.
A week after Fizer shredded the Northeastern defense for 213 receiving yards and three touchdowns, York High held him to three catches for negative three yards and didn’t allow him to break loose in the secondary, where he can be extremely dangerous.
While Stoner said the rematch with Red Lion wasn’t a motivating factor that the coaches used this week, a chance for the defense to put a stop to Fizer’s eye-popping numbers may have been.
“Sometimes you get tired of hearing things, so I think the kids wanted to prove some things tonight,” Stoner said.
Fizer injured his knee while playing defense early in the third quarter and didn’t return to the game. He had ice on the knee while sitting on the training table, but Red Lion coach Jesse Shay said the team can only wait and see how serious the injury is.
While the Bearcats had done a nice job of suffocating Fizer’s big-play ability, once he left the game, Shay and the Lions’ coaching staff had to scrap the original plan of attack.
“The call sheets got put in the back pocket,” Shay said. “Coach (Taylor) Green, we talked, but he called it from the gut.”
Establish the run: York High didn’t need to vary its play calls much during the game because running the ball worked just fine. The Bearcats used five different running backs in the game — Johnson, junior Marcellus John, senior Kiki Carroll, junior Kelvin Matthews and freshman Jahiem White — which allowed each running back to enter the game rested and ready to run.
Even without junior running back Tyrell Whitt, who Stoner said didn’t play due to internal team reasons but will be available going forward, Johnson said he enjoys the backfield rotation.
“It’s real nice cause every time somebody takes a hard hit or we’re tired, we always got the next man up ready to go,” Johnson said.
Johnson only had three carries, but he made the most of them. He scored the only points of the first half with a 4-yard touchdown run that put York High up 6-0 after a failed two-point conversion.
After Ja’Nas Simms returned the opening kick of the second half to the Red Lion 10 yard line, Johnson punched in his second touchdown of the game. He ended the game with 18 rushing yards and also recovered a fumble on defense, but credited his offensive line for the Bearcats’ success on offense.
“They keep the motor going,” Johnson said. “Without them, you really don’t got nothing. To have a big (offensive) line, that’s seasoned and they know what they’re doing, it’s a great thing. We (are) truly blessed to have a great (offensive) line like that.”
Matthews added a 14-yard touchdown run with under two minutes left, that iced the game for York High.
Looking forward: After the disappointing result, Shay said he had no idea what it meant for his team’s playoff chances, but the focus is on the remaining games.
“At this point, we can control what we can control,” Shay said. “Nothing else matters other than winning these last three, and if 7-3 doesn’t get in, well then it is what it is.”
For Stoner, the key to sustaining the success York High has had in Division I is about balancing the highs and lows. If his players continue to buy in, the days of losing seasons for the Bearcats will continue to be a thing of the past.
“In high school football, and any football, you’re never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you watch film,” Stoner said. “I am sure there’s going to be lots of things to learn from and we’re just going to get back to work. It’s really our kids staying focused, our kids doing all the other things right and if we do that, we have a chance.”
York High 6 0 6 6 - 18
Red Lion 0 0 0 0 - 0
YH - 4-yard TD run by Aaron Johnson
YH - 10-yard TD run by Aaron Johnson
YH - 14-yard TD run by Kelvin Matthews
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.