Hempfield Leaves No Doubt As Black Knights Suffocate CD East, Advance To District 3-6A Semifinal Round
It’s the first of November which can mean only one thing to high school football fans around the state of Pennsylvania- the best time of the year has finally graced us with its presence.
Ah yes, who doesn’t love themselves some postseason fun? The storylines, the players, the schools, the win or go home way of life, shoot, everything about it really. In short, if you can’t get excited about this, well, frankly you’re in the wrong line of work there, friend. Ironically though, the conversation heading into Week 11 every year without fail typically runs somewhere along the lines of, “Wow. That regular-season just flew by didn’t it?” Fair point depending on your perspective I suppose, but don’t find fault with two participants lacing it up this weekend if the pathway taken here to this Friday night was a little bit longer than you personally may feel.
For the CD East Panthers, much of their 2021 season has seemed to indicate this may finally be the year that this potential powerhouse has finally found its footing and has learned how to land some heavy punches in and around the capital city. To put it mildly, at least from an overall record standpoint, this last cycle hasn’t been particularly kind to Central Dauphin East. In fact, prior to this season, the last season in which the Panthers’ ended a campaign with an above .500 record was in 2017 when they finished just one game above the water line at 6-5 overall. To put that into perspective, that would put this year’s senior class in the eighth grade. Suffice to say, it’s been a while. That said, whether it be an influx of the intangibles brought to the table by freshman coach Lance Deane, or perhaps the integration of talent the likes of Mehki Flowers into the fold, a state champion on last year’s Steel-High squad, 2021 has set a strong foundation from which this program can certainly build upon. And sure, while seeing CD East’s rise has been one of the best stories to envelop the mid-state so far this season, let’s not forget that the Panthers have been able to achieve this feat by playing in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth, arguably the strongest division in all of Pennsylvania high school football on a perennial basis. For that reason, it’s easy to understand why CD East’s resume doesn’t need much justification, but we’ll give it some more love here anyhow.
Try this on for size. During the middle stages of this season, CD East was able to rip off a five-game winning streak, a stretch of games that saw them come out on top against the likes of State College, Cumberland Valley, and throttling of Chambersburg as well, a very brief “who’s who” list of Pennsylvania football franchises. That list aside, that doesn’t even include triumphs over Warwick and Cedar Cliff respectively, two yearly stalwarts in the postseason 5A field, and a win against their arch-rival Central Dauphin this season as well. For that reason, it’s pretty easy to see as to why CD East entered Friday night’s game as the #3 seed in a ridiculously wide-open 6A field this year.
Fittingly, their opening-round opponent on Friday night also made their way to Landis Field via the way of the road less traveled.
For the Hempfield Black Knights, 2021 has also proven to be a year in which things appear to have finally turned themselves back around for a program that belongs back in this spot. In fact, just like their opposition standing on the sideline across from them on Friday night, 2017 was also the last year in which the Black Knights too were able to lay claim to a winning record at the end of the year when finished up with an 8-4 mark. And just like CD East, Hempfield has also leaned on the teachings of a young CEO, second-year headman George Eager, to help right the ship for the football program hailing from District 3’s second-largest school district. In short, it appears to have worked out well thus far considering Hempfield was able to finish on the level ground last year in the weird and wonky season of pandemic-fueled campaign, ending the year with a respectable 4-4 overall record of the chute to start this new era in the Hempfield program. This season though is really where it appears the Black Knights have finally hit their stride.
I get it. 6-4 isn’t the most glamorous record known to mankind, but it’s a look inside those two numbers as to why Hempfield has found themselves playing in the postseason once again. Across the board, Hempfield’s schedule this season has been loaded for bear with plenty of name recognition.
After starting off the year with a win over Dallastown, always one of York County’s most recognizable football programs, the Black Knights fell just short against Manheim Central and Central York in the next two weeks that followed -the #1 and #2 seeds in the 6A and 5A brackets of this year’s District 3 playoff fields respectively- before getting back up off the matt against Exeter in the fourth week of the season with a 17-14 victory, just seven days after Exeter themselves was able to decimate the Wilson Bulldogs in a 42-14 final decision. From there, Hempfield was able to navigate through the gauntlet that is Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One play quite nicely, a string of contests that was no doubt highlighted by their 17-14 victory on the road at nemesis, Manheim Township, arguably one of the program’s biggest wins in the last decade or so.
And with their #6 seed that was certainly well-earned based upon their body of work accumulated throughout ten weeks of regular season play, it seemed only right that both CD East and Hempfield meet toe-to-toe against one another to help raise the curtain on this year’s postseason given that both squads felt like mirror images of each other by and large.
However, for two teams that felt so eerily similar to one another at least on paper, that is where the like comparisons quickly stopped as Hempfield left little to no doubt after the sheer domination they were able to exert over the course of the next 48 minutes out on the field on Friday night.
In fact, the Hempfield deluge really started from the opening moments. Sure, while the Black Knights fell victim to the quick penetration through the line from the CD East defenders on the first few initial plays from scrimmage, that same aggressive nature proved to be to the Panthers’ detriment shortly thereafter as a sensational screen pass drawn up by the Hempfield offensive brain trust resulted in a Cam Harbaugh 45-yard completion down the Black Knights’ sideline to Adam Acker who came screaming out of the backfield, as the Black Knights’ senior duo helped put Hempfield in business with the ball now sitting the CD East 19-yard line. Unphased, CD East continued to live with the blitz, this time being rewarded for doing so, as Travis Armstrong and Thad Krebs had an impromptu meeting with one another in the Black Knights’ backfield in combining for a key sack, a play which set up a 4th & 16 attempt for the visitors at the Panthers’ 25-yard line.
The fade route. It’s become what seems to be the perfect illustration of the extreme feast or famine nature in today’s offensive style of football. Well, in this instance at least, the Black Knights ended up gorging themselves via the 50/50 ball as a beautiful lob thrown by Harbaugh on the aforementioned fourth and long play wound up in the waiting arms of fellow senior, wideout Thomas Minnich, as Minnich was able to play the role of defensive rebounder by successfully boxing out his defender, making good for a crucial 24-yard pitch and catch to give Hempfield a fresh set of downs with the ball now resting at the CD East 1-yard line. From there, Stephen Katch was able to cap off Hempfield’s impressive opening march of the contest with an exclamation mark as the junior’s 1-yard touchdown plunge made it a 7-0 Black Knights’ lead with 7:41 left to play in the opening stanza following the Cannon Biscoe PAT.
Sure, while Hempfield’s successful opening series undoubtedly helped set the tone for the remainder of the evening, make no mistake about it, the Black Knights’ defensive totally stole the show.
After allowing the CD East offense to gain just one first down on their initial offensive series of the contest, the Black Knights were able to slam the door on the Panthers’ next offensive series as well as a senior defensive back, Adam Acker, was able to rise up and snare the errant pass out of the air for the timely takeaway to thwart a would-be CD East threat shortly after the midway point of the opening stanza.
Unfortunately, as far as the contingent from Landisville was concerned, the Black Knights were unable to do anything with it, losing nine yards on their next three plays before being forced to attempt to punt it back to their hosts deep inside their own territory. The keyword there being attempt as an errant snap on the Hempfield punt trickled harmlessly out of the end zone resulting in a safety, allowing the Panthers to get on the scoreboard despite never actually laying a finger on the ball itself, making it a 7-2 Black Knights’ lead which is their things would remain once the final 1:32 evaporated off the first-quarter clock.
Despite surrendering a tiny bit of momentum in the waning stages of the first frame, Hempfield’s chiseled attitude and determination only continued to rue the day as the game progressed.
As mentioned, the Black Knights’ defensive effort stole the show all game long. And never more was that on display than CD East’s ensuing series following the safety.
All told, the Panthers were able to advance all the down to the precipice of the goal line but were unable to negotiate any further. In fact, not even four plays from within the Hempfield 5-yard was enough to do the trick as the Black Knights’ emphatically slammed the door on the Panthers in style, effectively killing a drive for the hosts on downs to give the ball back to their offensive troops.
On the drive following the exchange of possession, Hempfield’s offense got lathered up.
To put it simply, Hempfield executed their offensive game plan to a T on Friday night. And never more so was that on display than the Black Knights’ series following the defensive stop.
Bleeding the play clock down to nearly zero on every play? Check. Allowing Cam Harbaugh to have enough time in the pocket to make quick decisions in terms of his wideouts getting separation? Check. Having Harbaugh call his own number and bulldoze over defenders to gain hidden yardage? Check. Then, with all those elements working, give the ball to a lightning bolt of a running back to seal the deal and really break the defense’s will? Check. This time, in terms of the running back who draws comparisons that only Mother Nature can aptly provide, Hempfield gave the ball to tailback Grant Hoover with their offense humming along with machine-like precision, as the Black Knights’ junior burst through the line and never looked back as Hoover’s 55-yard touchdown jaunt made it a 14-2 Hempfield advantage with 7:07 left to play before intermission.
Needing to score, it became imperative that CD East do something with it after falling behind by a dozen on their home turf. Fortunately for them, that’s precisely what the Panthers were able to do their next time with the football.
After getting into a groove with a nice mixture of dinking and dunking in trying to get past the Black Knights’ D, a quick burst way of CD East senior running back, Marcell McDaniels, around the left side of the Panthers’ line got CD East down deep yet again in Hempfield territory. However, much like the drive which had preceded it, Hempfield had no interest whatsoever in allowing this Panther drive to bear fruit of any sort either as a key stop on a CD East 4th & 2 attempts at the Black Knights’ 14-yard line by way of a number of Hempfield defenders ended yet another threat devised against them.
And as the final few minutes and change would tick off the second-quarter clock, there was little doubt that the message had been sent that Hempfield’s defense had set the framework for the way in which the second half on Friday night would likely go as the Black Knights carried the 14-2 cushion with them into the halftime locker room.
Sure enough, that same narrative continued to ring true as the second half got underway as well.
CD East facing a 3rd & 5 at the Hempfield 48-yard line on their initial offensive march of the third quarter? Swarmed under by the Black Knights’ defensive troops. Their second offensive series after forcing the Hempfield offense to punt it away in their own right? Absolutely wrecked thanks to the handiwork of Hempfield’s Deyvid Palepale in particular, as the Black Knights’ sophomore defensive lineman registered back-to-back bone-crushing tackles in successive fashion in the initial stages of the Panthers’ drive, helping lead to yet another CD East punt.
From that point on, however, Hempfield was able to close the door and throw away the key.
Sure, facing a third and long on your side of the field in a two-score game in the second half of a playoff contest isn’t exactly the most desirable way to try and make a living, but Hempfield’s offense was locked-in all game long, refusing to get rattled even when things may have appeared to be going slightly sideways against them. Case in point, a 3rd & 12 attempts in which Cam Harbaugh was able to hook up with a darting Andy Garcia across the middle, as Hempfield’s junior receiver took off after securing the catch on the slant with the end zone in his sights as the 60-yard touchdown strike across the bow made it a 21-2 Black Knights’ lead with 3:30 left to play in the third frame.
Did we mention the Hempfield defense yet?
Fittingly, for all the stellar work in which they were able to display up until that point, the Black Knights’ defensive unit had been unable to directly produce points. Well, that theme quickly turned on its head on CD East’s ensuing offensive series when Hempfield’s Aidan Shorter was able to pick off a Panther pass and raced 14-yards back to the house for the nifty pick-six, making it a commanding and downright surprising 28-2 Hempfield lead a mere 20 seconds later.
And if that wasn’t enough, Hempfield’s defense would turn away yet another CD East advance on downs inside Black Knights’ territory once more right before the conclusion of the third quarter just for good measure, as Hempfield was able to head into the final dozen minutes with ownership of the 28-2 lead.
If nothing else, the fourth quarter seemed to serve more like a culmination than anything else as far as Hempfield was concerned.
After extending the drive by way of his legs on a 3rd & 3 at the CD East 31-yard line, Harbaugh was able to use his head as well as his arm in tandem on the Black Knights’ next third down opportunity as he found Grant Hoover sneaking out of the backfield on 3rd & 13 shortly thereafter as Hoover’s run after catch helped move the sticks and allowed Hempfield to set up shop at the Panthers’ 3-yard line following the 27-yard pickup. Justly, Hoover was then able to finish what he himself had helped start as the junior’s 3-yard touchdown run made it a 35-2 affair in favor of the white-clad guests with 9:40 left to play.
Finally, in a way that seemed only right given the way in which they had emerged as the key storyline throughout the entire contest, Hempfield was able to end one last CD East march inside Black Knights’ territory as another Hempfield interception, this time thanks to Adam Acker, helped seal the deal as Hempfield was able to waltz back home to Landisville after a dominating 35-2 performance at the hands of an uber-talented CD East squad.
NEXT UP: After that dizzying defensive display put forth on Friday night, Hempfield will once again set their sights on a Mid-Penn Commonwealth opponent in the semifinal round of the District 3-6A playoffs next week when the Black Knights will suit up against either the Carlisle Thundering Herd or the Harrisburg Cougars depending on who wins between those two in their quarterfinal round matchup on Saturday afternoon over in Harrisburg. But rest assured, no matter who Hempfield must play, if the Black Knights are able to play that type of complementary, portable-type football the rest of the way, there really isn’t anyone that the crew from Landisville needs to feel intimidated by. And shoot, if you can past the rigors the 6A field in the District 3 ranks, the pathway to Hersheypark Stadium, and the state championship game suddenly feels a whole lot closer than the rough half-hour drive it would take to get there in real life.
For CD East, Friday night almost certainly puts a cold damper on what had been a fine season put forth by this group of Panthers. But rest assured, this remains a strong, bedrock-like type of campaign that they can build upon for the future. As mentioned, the Commonwealth division is arguably the best division that the entire state can provide, surely within the mid-state at the very least. And if CD East can maintain this same type of rising in the years to come -and there’s certainly reason to believe that given the juice infused by the way a young head man in charge of the program- the sleeping giant is known as CD East Football could very likely be a name to get familiar with over the course of the next few seasons. If nothing else, this season proves that the giant has certainly awakened from his slumber.
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