FOOTBALL

York-Adams League football playoff preview: Central York hosts Harrisburg in district semifinals

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Only one York-Adams League football team remains in the PIAA District 3 playoffs.

Central York, the district’s No. 2 seed in Class 6A, survived a 51-44 instant classic against rival York High last weekend. Elsewhere, York-Adams Division II champion New Oxford went down against Northern York in the Class 5A quarterfinals, while Dover and York Suburban were stomped out by the second seeds in 5A and 4A, respectively, to end their seasons.

Head coach Gerry Yonchiuk’s team is in the district semifinals for a third consecutive season. Central York won the District 3 title and made a run all the way to the state finals in 2020, then entered the postseason undefeated last year before falling to Wilson in this round. 

Central York’s Juelz Goff runs the ball in for a touchdown while York High defends 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

To make it back to Thanksgiving weekend, the Panthers will need to unseat reigning District 3 Class 6A champion Harrisburg. The Cougars have become a power in the district, winning three of the last six titles.

It’ll be a frigid Friday night, but it’ll be a marquee matchup with Division I-caliber athletes on both sides of the field. Here’s the breakdown.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Central York hasn’t missed a beat despite graduating Penn State-bound quarterback Beau Pribula. Led by a talented senior class, the Panthers went 9-1 in the regular season and 6-0 in York-Adams Division I, completing a perfect four-year run in league play. Central closed the regular season with a 43-38 win at York High but narrowly dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the class power rankings, behind Hempfield. That set up a rematch with the Bearcats after a week off for both teams.

The game was a shootout to remember. Juelz Goff had 274 scrimmage yards (171 rushing, 103 receiving) and four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) for the Panthers. Jahiem White tallied 328 yards and scored three times for York High. Central took a 23-22 lead into halftime and neither offense was stopped in the second half until the final minute, when the Panthers swarmed White short of the goal line on the decisive fourth down.

Harrisburg went 7-2 in the regular season, losing 24-20 against Manheim Township in Week 3 and 20-6 against unbeaten State College in Week 8. The Cougars have won their other eight games by an average score of 40-8. In last week’s rematch of the 2021 district title game, Harrisburg knocked out Wilson, 32-21, despite trailing 14-12 at halftime.

WHO TO WATCH

Senior quarterback Nasir Still waited his turn behind Pribula and has guided the Panthers to another strong season; he was unavailable for the first meeting against York High but threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score in the rematch. Goff, a junior, has emerged as a star and even taken snaps as a Wildcat QB in the last two games. Parker Hines headlines a dynamic receiving corps, and nearly the entire Panthers offensive line earned all-county first team honors.

Central York Nasir Still during PIAA District 3, Class 6-A quarterfinal football action against York High 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’s defense entered the first York High game giving up 19.7 points per contest, but the Bearcats were able to put 38 and 44 on the board in their two meetings, upping the Panthers’ average to 23.5 points allowed. DE Collin Glassmyer, LBs Domenic Grove and Dayton Bagwell, CB Saxton Suchanic and S Nigier DeWitt are all Division I first-team all-stars.

Harrisburg sophomore QB Shawn Lee has thrown 15 touchdown passes against five picks while adding six rushing scores. Senior all-purpose back and Temple commit Kyle Williams Jr. had 510 rushing yards, 511 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns in the regular season. And senior Makhai Hopkins, another D-I running back prospect, tallied 848 yards and 11 scores on the ground in nine games. The 240-pound bruiser will present a different challenge than anything Central is used to facing.

On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end Terrell Reynolds piled up four sacks last week, adding to his 12.5 in the regular season (alongside a team-high 83 total tackles and 20 tackles for loss). Central’s plan will start with keeping him out of as many plays as possible, although the rest of the Cougars’ defense has plenty of talent as well.

MAKING CASES

Recent history favors Harrisburg, which took the district last year and beat Central York 47-14 when the teams last met in 2019. The Cougars’ defense hasn’t allowed more than 24 points all season and gives up just 10.4 per game, so the Panthers likely aren’t headed for another shootout. And Central’s defense, after struggling to stop York High for three straight halves, will have its hands full with Harrisburg’s combination of power and speed.

But the Panthers are no stranger to these moments. Several seniors were part of the 2020 team that ran all the way to the state final. The group is 40-5 in the last four seasons, with two losses being playoff blowouts and the other three coming by six combined points. Central has both the explosiveness and the physicality to compete with anyone around, and it has home-field advantage to boot.

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

AROUND DISTRICT 3

The other Class 6A semifinal features No. 1-seed Hempfield (9-2) against No. 5-seed Manheim Township (8-3). Should Hempfield win, the Black Knights will host the district championship game next weekend. Central York beat Hempfield, 30-20, in Week 3 this season; the Panthers’ only loss came against Cumberland Valley, which fell 37-31 against Manheim Township last week.

Class 5A: No. 11-seed Northern York (8-4), fresh off road wins over South Western and New Oxford, will travel in the other direction to play No. 2-seed Exeter Township (11-0), which ended Dover’s season last Saturday. Top-seeded Solanco (11-0) hosts No. 12-seed Cocalico (8-4) in the other semifinal.

Class 4A: Second-seeded Manheim Central (10-1) thumped York Suburban last Friday to end the Trojans’ season and set up a clash with No. 3-seed Lampeter-Strasburg (9-2). No. 1-seed Bishop McDevitt (10-1) also cruised into the semifinals, where the Crusaders will host No. 4 Twin Valley (7-4).

Class 3A: No York-Adams League teams made this six-team bracket, where No. 1-seed Wyomissing (11-0) will host No. 3-seed West Perry (11-1) in the district final on Saturday afternoon. West Perry throttled previously unbeaten Lancaster Catholic, 63-20, to advance.

Class 2A: No. 3-seed Trinity opened its playoff run with a thumping of Delone Catholic, and the Shamrocks followed with a district championship victory over top-seeded Annville-Cleona last week. Trinity hosts West Cath on Friday.

Class 1A: Steel-High, after beating Fairfield in the district title game on Nov. 5, clobbered Belmont Charter last weekend and will host Windber on Saturday afternoon.