Fourth-quarter surge lifts York over Lions

By Rocky Nimmons

YORK — Jeff Fruster’s first season as the head coach of his alma mater is in the books. The York Cougars made sure of it with a 35-10 thumping of the Lions in round of the Class 4A playoffs Friday in York.

Daniel hung tough, even taking a 10-7 lead into the halftime intermission, only to see the wheels fall off in the final quarter. The Lions were outscored 28-0 in the fourth quarter, with three of the touchdowns coming via the big play.

11-23 Page 1B.indd“I think the kids came out and played primarily hard for most of the game,” Fruster said. “We let some big plays go against us. I think we got psyched out a bit by the things that were happening at the end of the game.”

The Lions did manage three interceptions, all by junior defensive back Michael Becker, but only one led to points. York, however, dominated the stats posting 424 yards to the Lions’ 138.

“The one thing that I have learned this season is that momentum is very hard to keep and maintain,” Fruster said. “I thought we had a lot of it going in the first quarter, and we didn’t do enough to keep it in the second half. Once you lose it, it is something that is hard to get back.”

The game kicked off with the Lions getting the ball to open. A quick three-and-out put York in great field position the first time it had the ball. Starting at their own 40-yard line, the Cougars mounted a six-play series that led to the game’s first points. Big plays included a 17-yard pass from York quarterback Ethan Mitchell to wide receiver Shandon Cobb for 17 yards, followed two plays later by a 25-yard completion from Mitchell to La’daruis Allison. Mitchell capped the drive with a seven-yard TD toss to Allison with 8:54 left in the first quarter. Myles Prosser added the PAT, making the score 7-0 in favor of York.

Following an exchange of punts, the Lion defense began to roar. Facing a third and six from the Lions’ 34-yard line, Mitchell went back to the air, only to have his pocket picked by Becker, who was sitting back in coverage for the Lions.

11-23 Page 1B.inddAfter the turnover, Fruster’s offense just couldn’t muster a drive and was forced to punt the ball away once more. Daniel punter and field goal kicker Nick Muchow sent a nice one down the field, giving the Cougars the pigskin near midfield at the York 45.

Rocky Nimmons/Courier Daniel’s Billy Bruce is dragged down by a York defender during their game Friday night.

The Lion defenders were still playing lights out. On the Cougars’ second snap from scrimmage, again Becker was the man when he stepped in front of another Mitchell pass, giving his team the ball at the York 46.

Daniel quarterback Ben Batson wasted little time, as he fired a 36-yard pass on first down to receiver Will Swinney to the York 10-yard line. Daniel’s only touchdown of the night came three plays later when Batson slung one to Kiandre Sims from nine yards out. Muchow split the uprights on the extra point, evening the game at 7-7 with 10:55 to play in the half.

The Lions took the lead late in the first half. This time it was another turnover that set the Daniel series in motion. The Lions had been forced to punt, and Muchow blasted one downfield with York’s Ke’trael Lytle back deep. Lytle bobbled the kick, allowing Daniel to take over at the Cougar 21. The Lions offense sputtered, but they were close enough for Muchow, who came on and nailed a 39-yard field goal with 3:13 to play, giving the Lions a 10-7 lead.

11-23 Page 1B.inddThe lead held up until the fourth quarter, when fate stopped smiling on Fru’s crew. A Batson interception got things going for York. The Cougars took over at the Lion 42-yard line and went right to work. On first down, Mitchell hit Cobb for 25 yards on a post pattern and followed that up two plays later with a 17-yard strike to Allison for touchdown. Prosser added the PAT with 11:23 to play in the contest, giving the Cougars a 14-10 lead.

Rocky Nimmons/Courier
Daniel senior Will Swinney fights for yardage after a catch at York on Friday night.

It was all downhill from that point, as the Lions began to self destruct. The very next time York had the ball, it was obvious the Cougars were out for blood. On the series’ second snap, Paul Moore took a Mitchell handoff and split the Daniel defense, racing 71 yards to paydirt. Prosser tacked on the PAT with 9:11 to play, pushing the York lead to 21-10.

It quickly went from bad to worse following the ensuing kickoff, as the Lions where stymied deep at the 22. The drive started at the 38-yard line, but back-to-back sacks on backup Lion quarterback Noah Lupton, who was subbing for the injured Batson, killed the drive and forced a punt. Disaster stuck when Muchow was cornered as he got the kick away, with the Cougars blocking the kick. Cobb was “Johnny on the spot” and snatched up the loose ball in the end zone for six points with 7:01 to play. Prosser added the PAT, pushing York’s lead to 28-10.

11-23 Page 1B.inddThe game’s final points of the night came on another big play. This time it was a 65-yard scamper by Moore on first down. Again Prosser nailed the PAT, ending the Lions’ season with a 35-10 loss.

“The kids did a good job of persevering,” Fruster said. “Even when the game got away from us, the kids were still fighting and playing hard. I think we have hope for the future.”

Fruster added that he had learned during his first season as a head coach that you can’t take anything for granted.

“I am very proud of these kids and what they were able to accomplish this year, having a winning season for the first time since 2014,” he said. “I have found to take comfort in the little things and to continue to build on.”

This was the last game for 14 seniors, who will never wear the Lions’ golden helmet again.

“We had a lot of things that happened to us this year, breaks that went against us, and they continued to persevere and fight through. I’m proud of this senior class and what they were able to accomplish this season,” Fruster said.