The record looks ugly. It’s certainly not something you want next to your team’s name in the standings after two weeks.
And if you’re a defending District 3 Class AAAA runner-up, it looks even worse.
Such is the plight of Red Lion, which dropped a 34-31 heartbreaker to Manheim Township on the game’s final play. Couple that with a loss to powerhouse Cumberland Valley in Week 1, and the Lions suddenly have an early-season hole to dig themselves out of.
Of course, defeats to quality programs like Township and CV are no cause to hit the panic button. And there are still plenty of reasons to believe the Lions will turn this season around.
The biggest of which is their running back.
Jason Milton, a fleet junior, was dazzling Friday. He broke off big run and big run, almost singlehandedly leading Red Lion’s charge back from an 18-point second-half deficit.
His final numbers signified his arrival as one of the YAIAA’s top running backs: 21 carries, 217 yards, 2 TDs. He ran for 151 yards in the second-half alone.
“He can do that on any given night,” Lions coach Pat Conrad.
Red Lion has had good running backs the last few seasons. Jeremy Knaub was a consistent source of production, a tough, reliable runner who ground out yards. But not many running backs have 4.4-range speed like Milton does. And not many can take a seemingly innocuous play and turn it into a game-changer.
Case in point: Midway through the third quarter, Red Lion was backed into a third-and-12 from its own 33. The Lions were in the midst of second-half deluge by Township, which had just surged to a 28-10 lead.
Milton took a draw up the middle, bounced to the right side, and darted 67 yards up the sideline for a touchdown. Just like that, Red Lion’s comeback was underway.
Red Lion actually seems to have two promising backs. Milton’s fellow junior Darrell Kendrick had a series of hard runs, including an 8-yard touchdown scamper to put Red Lion ahead in the fourth quarter. Both Milton and Kendrick accelerate fast and hit the hole with speed. As the game wore on Friday, the Lions ran more two-back sets with both Milton and Kendrick split behind quarterback Tanner Klinefelter.
As a whole, Red Lion’s offense looked impressive Friday. When a drive did stall, it was usually self-inflicted. (A penalty, a dropped ball, etc.)
And if we need a lesson that two losses to start a season is hardly a death sentence, all we need to do is look at the 2009 Central York Panthers. They began 0-2, then proceeded to win their next six games and earn a share of the YAIAA Division I title.
Red Lion is capable of a similar run. Its backfield is just one reason why.
Other thoughts from Friday’s limited action … How about William Penn? One week after being held to seven points in a loss to Reading, the Bearcats exploded for 41 in a comeback win at J.P. McCaskey. The hope before the season was that William Penn’s strengths would be its big bodies up front and a revamped defense. But if Friday’s scoreline was any indication, the offense might be catching up, too. Quarterback Tavon Parker, a relative newbie to high school football, completed an impressive 20 of 30 passes for 332 yards. The Bearcats could be a dangerous matchup for visiting Harrisburg next week. … The Tyler Fitzkee Show was in full swing at Bermudian Springs. We all knew the Eagles running back would put up huge numbers this season, but five touchdowns in a win against York Catholic is something. Remarkably, this isn’t the first time Fitzkee has had five scores in a game. He turned the trick last season in a Week 10 romp over Biglerville. … Boy, does New Oxford play a brutal non-conference schedule. After losses to Delone Catholic and Greencastle-Antrim, the Colonials next two games are at Central York and home against Red Lion. … Another strong performance from Dover, which handled Garden Spot, 27-12, on Friday. Tanner Link has picked right up where he left off last season — he dashed for 117 yards and four touchdowns in this one. Next up is a trip to Red Land, another game you have to feel Dover will be the favorite in. Then again, it will be the first time we see the Eagles away from their turf this season.