Central York sees explosive offense quieted in district playoff loss

The Panthers had tallied 30 points in every game this season, but didn't score an offensive point Friday.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

There were not many high school football teams in York County that were more explosive offensively this season than the Central York Panthers.

Big plays were more the norm than the exception all season. Skilled players like Juelz Goff, Nasir Still, Parker Hines and others often turned their runs and receptions into scores seemingly whenever they touched the ball.

The Panthers demonstrated their might in wins over Spring Grove, in which they scored over 40 points in the first half alone, as well big wins over Northeastern (56-14), Red Lion (69-27), Reading (44-8) and rival York High (43-38 and 51-44) in the regular season and postseason.

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After scoring at least 30 points in every game leading up to the District 3 Class 6A semifinals against Harrisburg, the Panthers expected to be in a high-scoring shootout against a similarly explosive Cougars side.

But Harrisburg kept the shootout one-sided, turning a first-half deficit into a 44-7 victory on Friday night.

Harrisburg's Kevin Brown (74) before tackling Central York's Nasir Still (7) in the D3 6A semifinal football game in Springettsbury on Nov. 18, 2022.

The Panthers never found that next gear — or any gear, for that matter — against a stout Harrisburg defense. Central managed just five first downs all night, only one of which came in the second half. Those big plays — like the 65-yard run that Goff ripped off to begin the scoring in the regular-season finale against York High three weeks ago — were nowhere to be seen.

“Just uncharacteristic of us tonight,” Central York coach Gerry Yonchiuk said. “Nothing worked. It really didn’t.”

During the regular season, the Panthers registered at least 302 yards of offense in every single contest. But on a cold and blustery night on their home turf, the Panthers were bottled up by a big and quick Harrisburg defense.

“They got us rattled, and we did not play well,” Yonchiuk said.

Instead, it was the visiting Cougars who came up with big play after big play throughout the evening.

Harrisburg running back Kyle Williams, a Temple commit, proved his elusiveness by scoring four touchdowns for the Cougars while the more bruising, 240-pound tailback Mahkai Hopkins ran over the Panthers for two more scores as Harrisburg finished the contest with a whopping 538 yards on the ground in the victory. Hopkins had 239 yards on 23 carries; Williams had 223 on 20. The Cougars dominated despite not completing a pass on six attempts.

Central York, however, was still in the game by halftime. Thanks to a pick-six by sophomore linebacker Tyler Frey in the first quarter, the Panthers trailed by a seemingly manageable 16-7 margin at the break. The Panthers came out of the locker room in their "jumbo" package, with Goff taking the direct snap behind extra offensive linemen.

But that didn't work, either. Central York immediately went three-and-out and was forced to punt. Even worse, that punt was fielded by Williams at the Harrisburg 35, and just a few seconds later, he was in the end zone for the third of his four scores on the night.

That score felt like a punch to the gut to the Panthers. Maybe more like a knockout blow.

Central’s offense still was stuck as consecutive three-and-outs ensued. That made for three straight three-and-outs, the first time all season the Panthers did that. The explosive offense was nonexistent.

“In terms of the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve just not had this here,” Yonchiuk said. “The offense just sputtered and turned it over.”

Central York's Juelz Goff (0) against Harrisburg in the D3 6A semifinal football game in Springettsbury on Nov. 18, 2022.

Central managed just 94 yards of total offense for the contest, but only 19 in a second half. The Panthers also committed an unseemly four turnovers, including three fumbles lost.

Goff, who finished with 53 yards rushing on the night, was never able to get free like the way he did so many times this season. The Central York standout was one of the most explosive players with the ball in his hands, but his touches were limited as the Cougars grew the lead in the second half, scoring on four of their six total possessions.

“Just frustrated that we couldn’t get things going on the offensive side of the ball,” Yonchiuk said. “We had (four) turnovers and that’s not what we usually do here. But credit to them (Harrisburg). They’re just really, really good. They’re really physical.”

The Panthers finished this season 10-2, adding to records of 11-1 and 10-1 under Yonchiuk. They won York-Adams Division I for a fourth consecutive season and were the league's final team remaining in the playoffs. But for the first time since the state championship game in 2020, Central York simply couldn't keep up.