After 2020 heartbreak, Kennard-Dale enjoys bye week before chasing first-ever district win

ROB ROSE
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  • Kennard-Dale has just completed a 9-1 regular season, including a York-Adams Division II title.
  • The Rams have a bye week before starting District 3 Class 4-A quarterfinal action vs. Donegal.
  • The Rams, who are seeded No. 3, are after the first district triumph in program history.

In a season full of firsts, Chris Grube has started to get used to new experiences.

The Kennard-Dale football program captured its first York-Adams League Division II title, posted the most wins in program history and Grube became the winningest coach in school history with a 9-1 regular season.

This week offers another novel experience — having a bye headed into the District 3 Class 4-A playoffs. The Rams get a week to rest and reflect on what they've accomplished as a team after going winless just a few years ago.

“This is definitely new to me,” Grube said. “Six years ago when I first started as a head coach, I knew that we were going to be in a little bit of trouble because we were starting four freshmen on both sides of the ball, and I can still vividly remember that year. I just remember going into coaches meetings and saying: ‘We just got to survive, and we just got to continue to try and compete.’ All that labor that we've put in throughout the years, it's finally coming to fruition and we're just blessed for the opportunity.”

Kennard-Dale enters the playoffs as the 4-A No. 3 seed and will host Donegal (7-2) next Friday, Nov. 12, in the quarterfinals. Grube spoke to some fellow coaches who have experience with postseason play and he decided to give the players a few days off this week.

Kennard-Dale's Steven Lukes carries the ball during football action at York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Kennard-Dale would win the game 42-10. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Senior running back Steven Lukes, who was the Rams' top rusher during the first half of the season, has been out for the last month with a knee injury, but is cleared to return. No other players have major injuries, but a few days to recover has been appreciated by the players.

“They're really happy that they have the time off, because then they can just go home and relax,” Grube said. “Right now they're looking at film and really looking at the scouting report, figuring out what's going on. It's not just the physical aspect, it's the mental aspect of trying to prepare for an opponent, and I think having some downtime just to be able to breathe and relax is good for them.”

Remembering last year's team: Grube wasn’t expecting to earn a top seed and a bye because the Rams had been No. 7 for most of the season in the district 4-A power ratings. Wins over 5-A teams Gettysburg and New Oxford — two teams that reached the District 3 playoffs — helped boost the Rams up the rankings.

The high postseason position has made Grube feel for last year’s players who failed to make the playoffs for reasons out of their control.

The Rams had their second straight winning season in 2020 and had the Y-A League D-II Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in Darius Bailey and Gabe Hulslander, respectively. Playoff spots, however, were limited last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that kept Kennard-Dale out of the postseason. Only four teams made districts in 4-A a year ago, compared to 10 this season.

Kennard-Dale Head Coach Chris Grube during football action at York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Kennard-Dale would win the game 42-10. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Bailey and Hulslander didn’t get a chance to experience the playoffs in their final season, but the juniors and seniors this year, who suffered through years of losing, have their sights set on pushing the program’s successful season even further with another first — a District 3 playoff victory. The Rams are 0-3 in program history in district action. The possibility of another breakthrough for a program that hasn't enjoyed a ton of success over the decades has the players — and the folks in southeastern York County — pumped up.

“Our kids are definitely excited for the challenge,” Grube said. “I know last year was heartbreaking for our guys, especially our seniors. Those guys put in the hard work over the four years, and unfortunately COVID kind of stole that opportunity. I think our upperclassmen want to do justice, support those guys that graduated and say: ‘Hey, we'll make sure that we get back this year, like we should have last year.’ I think that really motivated them throughout the season.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.