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FOOTBALL

York Suburban football assistant part of history again, 36 years later

Scott Luckenbaugh played for the Trojans' 1986 district championship team, the last to win a playoff game until this fall.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch
York Suburban against York Catholic during their football game in Spring Garden on Friday, Sept.9, 2022.

Scott Luckenbaugh still sees the banner commemorating York Suburban’s 1986 district football title whenever he walks into the gym. That was his senior year of high school, and he was the starting center for those Trojans. But 36 years after that triumph, Suburban's program was still without another postseason victory.

The drought came to an emphatic end Friday night, as the Trojans rolled to a 41-6 home victory over Donegal in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs. And Luckenbaugh, now an assistant coach for his alma mater, was once again part of the celebration.

“It’s awesome,” Luckenbaugh said this week. “We’re trying to build a program and trying to get to districts and win games in districts. It’s great to be part of that. I’m part of Suburban history, and these kids are part of Suburban history now.”

Back then, it was running back Randy Nelson leading the charge as the Trojans turned a 4-5 regular season into a District 3 Class 2A championship. They knocked off top-seeded York Catholic in the semifinals, 17-13, and prevailed against Susquehanna Township, 10-7, in the district championship game. With no statewide tournament, the pair of upsets sent head coach Bob McCoy into retirement on a legendary high note.

Plenty has changed. Pennsylvania now has six football classifications, and Suburban is part of a 10-team 4A district bracket this fall. The game itself is different on many levels. But these Trojans, too, have a strong foundation of blocking and tackling with a star running back to push them over the top. 

Senior Mikey Bentivegna, the York-Adams Division II Offensive Player of the Year, broke a school record with 1,873 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns in the regular season, then set a single-game record with 382 yards in a six-touchdown explosion against Donegal.

“He’s just an unbelievable player,” Luckenbaugh said.

York Suburban against York Catholic during their football game in Spring Garden on Friday, Sept.9, 2022.

York Suburban’s playoff drought never quite matched the program’s competitiveness. The Trojans have never been a hapless outfit, although moving up in classifications has certainly made it more challenging to stand out. Since Luckenbaugh first returned to the program as a junior-high coach in 2007, Suburban has had five different head coaches, so continuity has been hard to come by as well.

Back-to-back 8-2 seasons in 2015 and 2016 ended with playoff one-and-dones. In 2019, when Bentivegna and his classsmates were freshmen, the Trojans went 10-0 in the regular season and earned the top seed in the district, only to lose to Lampeter-Strasburg in the quarterfinals. Suburban was bumped up to 5A and fell short of the playoffs each of the last two years.

Second-year head coach Josh Fry’s team started this season 2-1 before losing its first three division games and wondering if it would even get a chance in the playoffs. But the Trojans won five straight games to finish 6-4 and earn the No. 7 seed. They had beaten Donegal on the road in September, 41-18, and were even more dominant on their home field in the rematch.

“We’ve had very good teams over the years and just couldn't get over the hump,” Luckenbaugh said. “And it was gratifying to get over the hump, finally.”

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Suburban will have its hands full with No. 2-seed Manheim Central (9-1) on the road this Friday, and a district title would still be two more wins away even with an upset. But nothing that happens from here can erase the memory of the night when all the pieces came together, a night 36 years in the making.

“We’re like an engine,” Luckenbaugh often says to players. “And if you have 11 pistons working at one time, your engine is going to run. (But) as soon as one piston goes down, it’s not going to work as well or it’s going to fail. And that's been our motto, and these kids are buying into it and they're working hard. 

“And that's what we did back in ’86.”