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Central York survives for 51-44 playoff win over York High

The Panthers made the only stop of the second half in the final minute of the game to secure the victory.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch
York High’s Nasir Chatman, right, defends as Central York’s Thaddeus Shaw recieves a pass and scores a touchdown during PIAA District 3, Class 6-A quarterfinal football action at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. Central York would win the game 51-44. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After turning their playoff football game into a fireworks display Friday night, Central York and York High saw their seasons come down to a single play.

And on an evening so devoid of defensive highlights, the host Panthers got the stop they needed.

Central York stifled York High on a fourth-and-goal with 25 seconds remaining to escape with a 51-44 victory in the PIAA District 3 Class 6A quarterfinals. The No. 2-seed Panthers (10-1) held off the No. 7-seed Bearcats (6-4) for the second time in as many contests, with a bye week in between. Their fifth straight win in the series was as dramatic as could be.

“It's so special because that game could have gone anywhere,” Central York head coach Gerry Yonchiuk said. “I told (Bearcats head coach Russ Stoner), ‘Your guys played their hearts out.’ They deserved to win, our kids deserved to win. … We just made a stop the one time we had to literally get a stop to win the game.”

The wild affair featured 13 total touchdowns, and the teams added eight two-point conversions on 10 attempts. There were 957 yards of offense. The only punt came on the first drive of the game. York High only even had the ball in the final minute because Bearcats head coach Russ Stoner had instructed his team to let Central York score a touchdown with 1:26 remaining.

Both teams’ star playmakers had banner nights. Panthers junior Juelz Goff rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, and his three catches went for 104 yards and two more house calls. Senior quarterback Nasir Still — who was unavailable in the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 28, a 43-38 Panthers win — tallied 159 passing yards with three touchdowns and 84 rushing yards with a score.

But York High’s Jahiem White stole the show, as the senior West Virginia commit amassed 328 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 32 attempts in his final high school game. 

“I'm his biggest fan — I can't wait to see him play in college,” Yonchiuk said. “But man, thank God we don’t have to play him again. He is such a talent.”

York High’s Jahiem White carries the ball during PIAA District 3, Class 6-A quarterfinal football action against Central York at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. Central York would win the game 51-44. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Central York found success in its first bout with the Bearcats by utilizing Goff, a Division I prospect in his own right, as a Wildcat quarterback. And even with Still back for this game, Yonchiuk kept the package in the rotation. Goff’s 2-yard score on a direct snap gave Central a 7-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first quarter. Then the game hit the turbo button.

White’s 38-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion put York High up 8-7 with 2:58 remaining in the first. Just seconds later, 6-foot-6 Bearcats defensive end Michael McMonigle snared an interception to give the visitors the ball at the 25. On an ensuing fourth down, White weaved through the defense for a 17-yard score, making it 14-7 at the end of the frame.

Still answered with a 58-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter, and Nigier DeWitt’s conversion put the hosts up 15-14. Montress Jackson scored a go-ahead touchdown for the Bearcats at the 6:04 mark, only for Still and Goff to connect on a 40-yard TD pass with 3:31 on the clock. The Panthers, leading 23-22, stopped York High on fourth down and raced into scoring position, but the Bearcats bottled up Goff short of the goal line as the clock hit zero.

“I did a poor job because you're expecting our tailback to kill the ball,” Yonchiuk said of the empty goal-line sequence, which nearly came back to haunt Central. “You live and learn from that.”

The second half, believe it or not, had even more points than the first. Thaddeus Shaw opened the third-quarter scoring with a leaping, one-handed touchdown catch that made it 29-22. After Jackson scored again and York High’s conversion was stopped, Still and Goff linked up for a 61-yard catch and run. The Panthers had the game’s first two-possession lead at 37-28 with 4:08 left in the third.

Bearcats quarterback Sam Stoner completed only 5 of 8 passes for 54 yards, but 40 came on a perfect strike to Quentin Price that helped get the visitors back within a point at the 1:26 mark. Goff answered with a 37-yard breakaway on a direct snap with 9:50 remaining in the game. Then, with York High facing a crucial fourth down at the Central 15, White recovered a fumble and scampered 15 yards for a season-saving score. One more conversion made it 45-44 with 4:43 to play.

Central York, which snuffed out a comeback in the first meeting with an eight-minute touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, had a chance to drain the clock after recovering an onside kick. The Panthers gained a key first down and called timeout with 1:49 left. They gave the ball to DeWitt, but Yonchiuk hadn’t told the senior to go down. The yells from the sideline during the run weren’t enough. 

“I didn’t think he was gonna pop one like that,” Yonchiuk said. “He had to come in because Juelz’s helmet came off (on the play before). So that's how that happened.”

To make matters worse, DeWitt was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after spiking the ball in celebration. That 15-yard penalty and an ensuing delay of game left the Panthers facing a 40-yard extra point, which York High blocked. Suddenly, the Bearcats had 1:40 on the clock needing a touchdown and conversion to stun their county rivals.

White opened the drive with a 60-yard run that pushed him over 300 for the night and put York High in business. Another first down made it goal-to-go, but on second down, Stoner was tackled in bounds at the 4-yard line. Rather than run a play, he raced his team to the line and spiked it, setting up the season-deciding fourth down. And the Panthers were up to the task, swarming to White and keeping him short of the corner. 

Central York vs. York High during PIAA District 3, Class 6-A quarterfinal football action at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. Central York would win the game 51-44. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York High started the season with two narrow losses, then won six straight on the back of its explosive offense, then twice came tantalizingly close against the team it wanted to beat more than any other. 

Russ Stoner inherited a program that had won 12 games in seven years and has turned it into a consistent contender, but this loss — which ended the high school careers of Sam Stoner, his son, and White, who he called the best player he’s ever coached — carried that much extra sting.

“It sucks,” Stoner said. “It's just a game, but they've worked hard and they’ve put their life into it. … At the end of the day, someone has to lose, and it's unfortunate because I think if both of these teams were playing somebody else (in the playoffs), both of these teams might have moved on.”

Central will host No. 3-seed Harrisburg this Friday night, as the Cougars held off No. 6-seed Wilson for a 32-21 victory on Saturday afternoon. Yonchiuk’s team won the District 3 title in 2020 and started 11-0 before a semifinal loss last year. With star quarterback Beau Pribula now at Penn State, a wide range of seniors have stepped up to bring the Panthers back to the same playoff stage.

With New Oxford, York Suburban and Dover also losing this weekend, Central York is the final York-Adams League team standing.