Tonight's game: Facing loaded St. Joseph's Prep team, Central York has faith it will emerge as champion

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • Central York faces St. Joseph's Prep in the PIAA Class 6-A football final on Saturday night.
  • The game is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium.
  • St. Joseph's Prep enters the game at 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation.
  • Central York is 10-0. The Panthers are the first York County team to make a state football final.
Central York quarterback Beau Pribula, seen here in a file photo, has committed to play college football for Penn State.

During his first two seasons running Central York’s offense, there has been little question about whether or not Beau Pribula was the best quarterback on the field.

The Penn State commit and four-star recruit by ESPN has generally been considered the most talented player on every field he has stepped on as Central York’s leader.

Saturday night, however, the junior will get his first taste of what playing NCAA Division I football will be like against a loaded St Joseph's Prep team that features a quarterback he is likely to see often over the next few years.

Prep senior quarterback Kyle McCord, the No. 29 prospect in ESPN’s 2021 class, is a five-star recruit headed to Ohio State, where he and Pribula could face off for years to come.

St. Joseph's Prep quarterback Kyle McCord has committed to play football at Ohio State.

“I just try to play the best to help my team win. I don’t really care who the better quarterback is,” Pribula said. “It is pretty cool that we can kind of start that rivalry early, but it’s not really me vs. him. It’s more St. Joe’s Prep vs. Central York.”

The PIAA Class 6-A title matchup, set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, also features two different types of signal callers. Pribula is a dual-threat quarterback, with the ability to make plays with his legs and his arm, while McCord is a pocket passer who shreds defenses with his accuracy.

Prep's stellar cast: McCord threw six first-half touchdowns in the Hawks’ state semifinal win and his dominant performance was helped by a stellar cast of NCAA Division I pass catchers at his disposal. 

Led by Ohio State-bound senior Marvin Harrison Jr. — the son of the NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver — Prep’s wideout position is deep. Joining Harrison as McCord’s top targets are three-star recruit seniors Sahmir Hagans (headed to Duke) and Malik Cooper (headed to Temple).

In front of McCord is a young, but talented offensive line, led by junior guard Brad Harris, who holds offers from a number of schools, including Oregon, Michigan State and Arizona State.

Besides the overwhelming talent that Prep (5-0) possesses, Central York coach Gerry Yonchiuk said something else sets the team apart from other high school squads. Unlike the Panthers (10-0), who have most of their top athletes playing offense, defense and special teams, the Hawks’ stars mostly play only one phase of the game.

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That allows their athletes to spend all their time perfecting their skills without the need to use practice time on both sides of the ball. It also allows the Prep players to be well rested when they take the field.

Challenge, and opportunity, for Tomb and Wright-Rawls: That presents a unusual challenge and opportunity for Central York senior wide receivers/defensive backs Judah Tomb and Taylor Wright-Rawls.

The duo has shined throughout the season, playing nearly every down for the Panthers. Now they will have the eyes of a number of college coaches on them as they try to shut down the likes of Harrison on defense, and then stay on the field and try to score against Prep junior cornerback Keenan Nelson Jr., who holds offers from Georgia, Notre Dame and Penn State, among several others.

Central York's Judah Tomb carries the ball for a touchdown during District 3, Class 6A semifinal action against Central Dauphin at George Ebersole Stadium in Harrisburg, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Central York would win the game 42-15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“It’s a team game of course, but if you do really well it gets yourself even more noticed,” Yonchiuk said. “You get an opportunity to perform on the biggest stage. I think it’s great from that standpoint.”

To go along with Nelson in the secondary, the Hawks also feature a duo of NFL sons on defense. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., the No. 7 recruit in the ESPN 2021 class, is headed to Clemson. Sophomore Josiah Trotter is another standout Prep linebacker. Both Trotters are the sons of former Philadelphia Eagles standout Jeremiah Trotter. The youngest Trotter already has received an offer from Penn State.

In addition to the list of players going to Power Five schools, the Hawks have a number of players going to play at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level as well, and even their kicker, junior Antonio Chadha, is ranked by a recruiting service and posted a video of a 65-yard field goal he hit in practice on Twitter.

Pribula has faith: Despite the disparity in recruiting stars and elite college scholarships, Pribula has faith that his team can put together a performance that will shock the team rated No. 3 in the country. 

As the star of his team and lone Power Five player wearing orange and white on Saturday, Pribula is cognizant of the need for he and his teammates to trust that they can win, despite being the first-ever York County school to reach a state football final.

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Before the Panthers’ District 3 win over Central Dauphin this year, the narrative around the program had been that they would get blown out by teams outside of York, like the Panthers' 2019 District 3 defeat at Harrisburg.

With a district title and two wins in the state playoffs under their belts, the Panthers have shed the feeling that they can’t win against tough competition.

“I think mentally this is just as challenging as it is physically,” Pribula said. “I think we have battled that in the past, like Harrisburg. A lot of that game was mental and a belief thing. I think that was a bump we got over this season. I think in some ways, we have been in this position before. We just have to believe 100% and I feel we do believe we can win. We’re in this game for a reason and if we play well I believe we can win.”

Central York's Beau Pribula carries the ball for a touchdown during District 3, Class 6A semifinal action against Central Dauphin at George Ebersole Stadium in Harrisburg, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Central York would win the game 42-15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Not an easy task: It won’t be easy. Prep is appearing in its fifth consecutive PIAA final and is going for its fourth title during that run. 

Still, the Panthers are ready to face the challenge and see just how special this senior class — that has had high expectations on it since second grade — truly is. The Hawks will likely score a lot of points and the Panthers will likely find themselves trailing at some point.

Yonchiuk, however, is confident that Central York’s experience coming back from deficits in three of its playoff games will help the team believe it can do it again.

Pribula will be the focus on Saturday night, but if the Panthers win the game it will be a true team effort. Against a group of players who already have their college football futures settled, the Panthers’ are going out on the field knowing it will be the final game for some of them, and there’s nothing they won’t do to leave with a victory.

“It’s unbelievable. This is it,” Pribula said. “For most of these guys it’s one of the last football games they will be playing for their lives, so to go out with a bang is something us underclassmen are trying to do for this senior class. I know 100% this senior class will do anything to go out with a win.”

Notes: Central York's allotment of tickets for Saturday's game has been sold out. Because of Gov. Tom Wolf's latest COVID-19 restrictions, the Panthers had just 386 tickets to sell. The game will be televised live by PCN (Comcast channel 186), livestreamed by PCN Select and broadcast on the radio by WOYK, 1350 AM and 98.9 FM.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.