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Central York standout, head coach reflect on Panthers' unforgettable football season

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • Central York's football team finished 10-1 this season and won the District 3 Class 6-A title.
  • The Panthers' season ended with a loss in the Class 6-A title game vs. St. Joseph's Prep.
  • Central was the first York County team to make a state championship football game.
Central York quarterback Beau Pribula rolls out of the pocket looking for a receiver as the Panters face McDowell in the PIAA Class 6-A state semifinal game November 21, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Over the course of a season when games could get canceled at any minute and history was being made on a weekly basis for the past month, there wasn’t much time for Beau Pribula to reflect on accomplishments.

One moment, however, made the Central York junior quarterback stop and take in just how special this season was for the Panthers football team. 

The Central standout received a graphic from Penn State’s coaching staff wishing their future quarterback luck in the PIAA Class 6-A title game. At that moment, at the request of his older brother, former Central QB standout Cade Pribula, he had to take a minute and enjoy how far he has come since last season.

When the 2019 campaign closed with a dreadful 47-14 loss to Harrisburg in the District 3 playoffs, Pribula was listed as a three-star recruit and held just two college offers. One year later, the Panthers’ captain is a now four-star recruit and is committed to join the school (Penn State) he grew up dreaming about playing for and he led his team to the first football state title game in school and York County history.

Penn State football coaches sent Beau Pribula this graphic prior to the Panthers' PIAA 6-A title game.

“I don’t think anybody would ever see us in the state championship a year after getting blown out by Harrisburg, and I don’t think anybody would ever see a York County team in the state championship,” Pribula said. “It means a lot to this community. It gives York County football teams hope and I think hopefully we can carry this momentum and keep getting better.”

Rough start: This year started about as rough as it could have for the Panthers. The team saw former coach Josh Oswalt leave for the Cumberland Valley job at the end of 2019. The program went two months without a leader.

Central York Head Coach Gerry Yonchiuk, left, presents a medal to quarterback Beau Pribula after defeating York High in the York-Adams League District 3, Class 6-A championship football game at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Central York would win the game 48-21. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When Gerry Yonchiuk was hired in February, he had all of one week meeting with the players face-to-face before the COVID-19 pandemic forced all contact with the Panthers to Zoom meetings and phone calls. Luckily for Yonchiuk, he inherited a team with a talented senior class committed to making sure the team was ready for the season, no matter what.

Yonchiuk said the seniors and Pribula were on their teammates to make sure nobody missed a workout session or film study, and coordinated about 20 players-only practices to install the new plays off campus while contact with coaches wasn’t allowed.

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“I think we knew we were going to have a special team because of the amount of seniors and the experience we were bringing back,” Pribula said. “I still think we had a sour taste in our mouth after losing to Harrisburg. That’s definitely not the way we wanted to go out. We were going to do anything we could and really not look back and say we had any regrets. We did everything we could to get better and not have the same outcome as the year before.”

Best year of Yonchiuk's career: Although the team couldn’t meet in person, Yonchiuk found new ways to bond with his players. Through Zoom meetings, he got to know the players and helped with recruiting opportunities for several Panthers.

Central York Head Coach Gerry Yonchiuk addresses the team after a 62-13 to St. Joseph's Prep during PIAA Class 6-A Football Championship football at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In the 37 years he has been a coach, Yonchiuk said this was the best year of his career, not  just because of the success on the field, but the relationships built along the journey.

“It meant everything,” Yonchiuk said. “I have coached a long time and this was my favorite season ever. There is always a trust factor when you take over something new. You gotta earn those players’ trust and respect, and that part kept building as the season went on. That’s part of the enjoyment. The result is great, but as long as you can enjoy the process along the way, that’s all that matters.”

Taking out frustrations on their foes: When Central York finally got onto the field, the Panthers took out their frustrations from a delayed, shortened and much-debated season on their foes. Yonchiuk said the team set a goal to not be scored on during the regular season, and to his surprise, came close. Central York outscored its opposition, 354-9, during six games of York-Adams Division I play.

That wasn’t enough for this team though. Pribula and the team had their sights set on more than local success.

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

“In years past, the team might have been satisfied with that, but I know that this team was not at all,” Pribula said. “We knew that winning these league games was good, but we wanted to win games in district games and state games and to do that we had to get better each and every week.”

Historic run: Central York completed those goals too. Starting with a gigantic road win over reigning District 3 6-A champ Central Dauphin, the Panthers went on a historic run that led to the state title game. Yonchiuk said the game against CD was the best his team played this year and Pribula added that it was the most fun he had on the field this season.

The win over CD, the District 3 title win, which came against rival York High, and a pair of comeback wins in the state playoffs against Delaware Valley and (Erie) McDowell have allowed the Panthers to shed the external and internal thoughts that the team can’t compete vs. the best programs from across the state.

“I think the bar is just set at a new level,” Pribula said. “What’s expected is a lot higher now and I think everybody in the program knows that and has a lot of pride in what we have going right now and wants to live up to the bar (this year’s team) set.”

Looking ahead to 2021: To keep the success going in 2021, a new group of players will be asked to step up. Several juniors saw significant playing time on both sides of the ball and will be key players next season after receiving Y-A League all-star honors — lineman Danny Pham, defensive end Trenton Dunnick and linebacker Carter Glassmyer.

Running back Imeire Manigault, a former Y-A all-star, is expected to recover from an injury, defensive back Treyshawn Smith will be eligible after transferring and wide receiver Parker Hines will be catching passes from Pribula, who will be the focal point for opposing defenses once more.

“Having arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the country, it starts there, just as any college program with a great quarterback coming back,” Yonchiuk said. “That’s a huge point that most programs aren’t going to have that opportunity.”

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

Season a success, despite loss vs. Prep: The season ended with a rough 62-13 loss against a powerhouse St. Joseph's Prep team in the state final, when Pribula suffered a foot injury.

Central York loses PIAA 6-A title game to juggernaut squad from St. Joseph's Prep, 62-13

Still, he'll look back on this 10-1 season as a resounding success. When it began, he wasn’t even sure if he would have a chance to step on the field with the friends he spent years with, preparing this moment. When it ended, they were arguably the greatest team in York County history and have memories they will cherish forever.

“It’s just unbelievable. It really is,” Pribula said. “From not thinking we were going to play a game at all, to playing 11 games and being the state runner-up is really, truly unbelievable. Everybody that was involved — the administration, coaches and staff — who helped get us to this point, I cannot thank them enough. This season is something that I and the rest of the team will never forget.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.