Central York football knocked out of playoffs by Harrisburg

The Panthers couldn't stop the Cougars' run game in a 44-7 defeat.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

You’ll certainly find colder nights than Friday at Central York High School. But the chill in the air during this playoff football game had a way of taking over slowly. Temperatures dropped to the low 30s during the evening, each breeze feeling colder than the last. The wind chill of 23 degrees felt especially jarring, considering it was in the 60s just last week.

It was a similar story on the football field. The visitors from Harrisburg took time before imposing their will. The Cougars’ physicality wore Central York down, then started throwing haymakers, each body blow delivering an extra shiver. The Panthers, free-flowing last week, went numb.

Central York walked off its home field Friday night with a 44-7 defeat at the hands of the defending PIAA District 3 Class 6A champions. The No. 2-seed Panthers (10-2) suffered their first loss by more than three points since the 2020 state final. Their offense was shut down, and their defense ran out of answers, leading to a 538-95 yardage disparity.

Central York's Dayton Bagwell (45) trying to stop Harrisburg's Kyle Williams (4) from scoring a touchdown in the D3 6A semifinal football game in Springettsbury on Nov. 18, 2022.

“They’re down. They’re upset. They’re hurting,” Central York head coach Gerry Yonchiuk said after the game. “Any time you lose to end your season, and then lose like that, it’s a very difficult thing.”

No. 3-seed Harrisburg (9-2) didn’t even complete a pass, and it didn’t come close to mattering — senior running backs Kyle Williams Jr. and Mahkai Hopkins combined to rush for 462 yards on 43 carries. Williams, a speedy Temple commit, notched 223 yards with three scores on 20 totes and added a punt return TD. Hopkins, a 240-pound bruiser with Division I offers, amassed 239 yards and two scores.

“They just dominated when they were out there,” Yonchiuk said.

Central York head coach Gerry Yonchiuk 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 York, meanwhile, managed just five first downs offensively and committed four turnovers. Senior quarterback Nasir Still completed 3 of 7 passes for 14 yards and rushed for 24 yards. Junior running back Juelz Goff was limited to 53 yards on eight carries. The Panthers lost three fumbles in the first half and added a fourth-quarter interception to the ledger.

“Nothing worked,” Yonchiuk said. “They got us rattled, and we did not play well on that side of the ball.”

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Central York’s lone score came on Tyler Frey’s 53-yard pick-six with 3:46 left in the first quarter. The Panthers stopped Harrisburg on multiple fourth downs, including a fourth-and-goal as time expired in the period, to cling to a 7-0 lead early.

Then came the avalanche. Williams’ first score came with 8:27 left in the second quarter, and the Cougars took an 8-7 lead on the two-point conversion. After Harrisburg batted down a fourth-and-1 screen pass on the ensuing drive, Hopkins’ 42-yard run set up Williams’ 14-yard touchdown, which made it 16-7 at the 1:49 mark. Central then lost a fumble in its own territory and was lucky to get a defensive stop and be down just nine at halftime.

To get back in the game, though, the Panthers needed to get their offense going. Instead, they went three-and-out to start the second half and couldn’t stop Williams on a 63-yard punt return touchdown. 

“We thought we had him pinned in,” Yonchiuk said of the play, “but we didn’t have him contained; he got outside it and he’s electrifying.”

Williams added a fourth score with 2:02 left in the frame that made it 30-7. He left the field with an injury in the second half but quickly returned to action.

Hopkins did the damage in the fourth, bowling over the Panthers for two touchdowns, the second of which stretched the lead to 44-7 with 6:42 remaining. The Cougars then picked off Still for one last takeaway and bled out the rest of the clock.

Harrisburg will play No. 5-seed Manheim Township for the district title next weekend. The Blue Streaks handled top-seeded Hempfield, 42-7, in Friday’s other semifinal, setting up a rematch from Week 3 of this season. Manheim Township won that game, 24-20.

Central York closed the door on its third consecutive 10-win season. The Panthers’ 13 graduating seniors went 40-6 in their high school careers, with 31 wins coming in the last three years. In its third year under Yonchiuk, the team continued its reign atop York-Adams Division I despite replacing star quarterback Beau Pribula, now at Penn State.

Still, a second team all-county selection, steered the ship adeptly when he got the chance. Wideout Parker Hines and center Danny Pham, the primary links to that 2020 state finalist team, remained steady presences to the end. Same with all-star defenders Dayton Bagwell and Nigier DeWitt. So while the postgame hugs were accompanied by tears, heads were held high with good reason.

“They were 1-8, I was told, when they were freshmen,” Yonchiuk said, referencing the Panthers’ 2019 team. “So for them to come back and do what they did was tremendous.”

Central York's Juelz Goff (0) hugging Ajani Walker (6) after their loss to Harrisburg in the D3 6A semifinal football game in Springettsbury on Nov. 18, 2022.