Central York advances to PIAA 6-A title game with 37-21 victory over McDowell

Rob Rose
York Dispatch

ALTOONA — When Gerry Yonchiuk was hired to coach Central York, he didn’t need a lesson on how talented the team was.

With a loaded senior class and star quarterback on the roster, a York-Adams League Division I championship was expected, but the team had bigger ambitions than local trophies. The Panthers set their sights on a trio of titles — Y-A League, District 3 and the PIAA 6-A state title.

With two of the three completed, Central York is just one win away from adding another piece of hardware and cementing its legacy as one of York County’s greatest football teams after beating McDowell, 37-21, to advance to the PIAA title game next Saturday.

“I knew this team was special,” Yonchiuk said. “I said all along I am just the fortunate one to get the job to be able to coach them and try to just raise them up a little bit (and) make them believe in what they’re doing. Am I surprised? No because I really think they felt they could do that.”

Central York's Beau Pribula holds a Hershey's candy bar up to the crowd after the Panthers defeated McDowell 37-21 in the PIAA Class 6-A state semifinal football game, November 21, 2020. The Panthers will play for the state title next Saturday at Hershey Park Stadium.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The main reason the Panthers believe they can beat anyone in the state is because of the player running the offense. Junior quarterback Beau Pribula continued his assault on opposing defenses with another monster game.

The Penn State recruit threw for 305 yards with a touchdown and added another 106 yards and two scores on the ground. His biggest play of the game came on a 51-yard run, which began as a pass play, where Pribula raced past and through defenders before being tackled just before he could cross the goal line. 

Pribula was annoyed he didn’t score, but the play left everyone in attendance, including his coach, in awe of the skills that recently forced ESPN to make him a four-star recruit.

“That was special,” Yonchiuk said. “That shows you his athletic ability and what he can actually do on the field. It was really tremendous.”

It wasn’t all perfect for Pribula on Saturday. The standout quarterback tossed a pair of interceptions, both of which were argued against by Central York because of a potential defensive penalty and a ball possessed by Central York tight end Kyle Fontes and a defender that was ruled an interception, respectively.

Central York running back Jahmar Simpson tries to leap over McDowell defensive back Rashawn Tate during the PIAA Class 6-A state semifinal football game, November 21, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

“It was frustrating, but you can’t let it get in your head because it’s just going to go downhill from there, so you have to bounce back no matter what the call is,” Pribula said. “I think I did a good job of that (and) I think the team did a great job of that. We didn’t let that get into our heads.”

Once again in the playoffs, the Panthers had to respond to an opponent taking an early lead. McDowell jumped out to a 14-0 lead — the largest deficit Central York faced this season — and Yonchiuk said the experience the team gained in comeback wins vs. Central Dauphin and Delaware Valley allowed them to stay focused and keep fighting.

“It allows you to think, ‘The game is not over. You gotta play until the final whistle,’” Yonchiuk said.

Central York responded with 27 unanswered points in the second quarter to close the half with a lead and all the momentum on their side. Pribula ran in two scores and seniors Isaiah Sturgis and Judah Tomb each had touchdowns. Tomb dominated the first half with seven catches for 142 yards and a 42-yard score.

The Panthers had the ball to begin the second half, but their offense sputtered. A mistake on a handoff led to a fumble, then on a reverse on the next series another fumble resulted in a Trojans touchdown. 

Wide receiver Judah Tomb of Central York goes airborne after being hit by McDowell defensive back Rashawn Tate during the PIAA Class 6-A state semifinal game, November 21, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

“It’s always weathering the storm,” Pribula said. “Bad things are going to happen. Unfortunately we were driving and there was a fumble. That’s going to happen. We just have to go to the sideline and keep punching.”

Central York continued to move the ball without much success until a senior stepped up for a pair of big plays. Raquel Dewitt intercepted a pass tipped by Trenton Dunnick and then ran in a 17-yard to clinch the game for the Panthers and break out the celebratory chocolate bars ahead of the title game in Hershey next Saturday.

Waiting for Central York in the sweetest place on earth will be a team that will not be a treat to play. St Joseph’s Prep is the two-time defending 6-A state champ, has won three of the four championships since the 6-A classification was formed and has reached the title game each of the past five seasons.

The prep work for their next game will begin tomorrow, but now it’s time for the Panthers to enjoy this latest victory. They have gone further than any team in York County history, but for Pribula and the team that set high goals for this season, it’s not far enough just yet.

“It’s truly amazing. It’s something I envisioned since I was a little kid,” Pribula said. “Everybody wants to play in the state championship, so to have that dream come true it means a lot. Now we just have to go win it.” 

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.