Inside their locker room, some 70 Central York football players and coaches huddled together, breathlessly trying to will on a game taking place two dozen miles away. Many Panthers players had yet to strip off their shoulder pads and jerseys.

Already their work was done for the night Friday, thanks to a comprehensive, 44-7 victory against visiting William Penn. But any senior-night celebrations were muzzled temporarily, as the team awaited word from Spring Grove's game at South Western.

They knew a loss by the first-place Rockets would give Central York a share of the YAIAA Division I title.

The Panthers listened in silence, while a member of Central's staff -- who knew somebody at the game -- passed along play-by-play updates.

Central York’s Forest Curry (9) tackles William Penn’s Dakeem Dennison (25) during Central York 44-7 win over William Penn.
Central York's Forest Curry (9) tackles William Penn's Dakeem Dennison (25) during Central York 44-7 win over William Penn. (YORK DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - MIKE ZORTMAN)

When word arrived that South Western had denied the Rockets' final drive -- thus sealing a Mustangs win -- the players and coaches erupted.

"To know that we won, we're going to the playoffs and we shared a division title ..." Central York senior quarterback Corey Hartz said. "It feels wonderful."

Not only did the win secure a share of Central's third division championship in five years, it also likely guaranteed the Panthers (7-3, 4-1 Div. I) a home game in next week's first round of the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs. Central entered the weekend at No. 8 in the district power rankings, with the top 16 teams set to qualify.

Hartz seemed almost dazed, as he sat next to Central York coach Brad Livingston inside the locker room.

"You gotta believe, man," Livingston said to his quarterback. "You gotta believe."

"Just everything was clicking this game," Hartz added with a smile.

But before that memorable locker-room scene could unfold, Central York first had to dispatch a William Penn team that was playing for its own postseason fate. The Bearcats (3-7, 2-3 Div. I) were the district's No. 17 seed entering Friday.

It didn't take the Panthers long to discover the night's winning formula: Give the ball to do-it-all running back Marquis Fells.

William Penn’s Kelvin Nieves runs into a wall of Central York defenders and is brought down for no gain as the Central York Panthers defeated William
William Penn's Kelvin Nieves runs into a wall of Central York defenders and is brought down for no gain as the Central York Panthers defeated William Penn, 44-7. (YORK DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - MIKE ZORTMAN)

The Central senior carved one path after another through an undermanned William Penn defense. Fells had touchdown runs of 1, 4 and 34 yards in the first half and finished his night with 207 yards from scrimmage -- a season-high 161 rushing and 46 receiving.

Fells even threw for a touchdown, when he hit a wide-open Darian Hampton for a 17-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. That pumped Central's lead to 37-0 and set the mercy-rule running clock into motion.

"I didn't say much in school today, had my headphones on all day," Fells said. "I came out here early and started running. I looked at (Hartz) and said 'We got this.' "

On Fells, Livingston added that, "I don't really know that he's ever not on. ... He'll tell you, he hates practice. He just humors us at practice. But you turn the lights on, and the man plays."

Hampton had two touchdown grabs for Central York, while Hartz completed 9 of his 13 passing attempts for 110 yards.

William Penn's offense, meanwhile, looked as if it were churning through quicksand much of the night. The Bearcats had minus-8 rushing yards at halftime and managed two first downs through the first three quarters.

"We got guys playing positions that they're not used to playing. We're decimated with injuries," William Penn coach Shawn Heinold said. "We have guys that aren't ready to be playing varsity football, and it's showing."

After the teams shook hands, Central York's seniors gathered near midfield. They dropped en masse to their hands and knees to kiss the Panthers logo at midfield -- a senior-night tradition.

They will get to play at least one more game on their turf next week.

But first they jogged bleary-eyed off to their locker room, where even more good news would soon greet them.
@johnsclayton; 771-2045

Wm. Penn  0    0    0    7 --   7
Central York  6    17    7    14 -- 44

First Quarter
   CY -- Marquis Fells 4 run (kick blocked), 6:46
Second Quarter
   CY -- Kyle Smith 28 FG, 11:16
   CY -- Fells 1 run (Smith kick), 6:41
   CY -- Fells 34 run (Smith kick), 2:23
Third Quarter
   CY -- Darian Hampton 1 pass from Corey Hartz (Smith kick), 1:56
Fourth Quarter
   CY -- Hampton 17 pass from Fells (Smith kick), 11:53
   WP -- Derek Wilson 14 pass from James Way (Thurman Fogleman kick), 8:28
   CY -- Sherief Sutton 71 run (Smith kick), 6:53
-- WP -- CY
First downs -- 8 -- 16
Rushes-yards -- 26-115 -- 40-257
Passing -- 5-13-0 -- 10-14-0
Passing yards -- 46 -- 127
Total yards -- 161 -- 384
Punts -- 6-32.3 -- 2-32.5
Fumbles-lost -- 1-1 -- 1-0
Penalties-yards -- 7-55 -- 2-20

   Rushing -- William Penn, James Way 8-81, Kelvin Nieves 13-50, Bryshon Sweeney 3-2, Team 2-(-18); Central York, Marquis Fells 24-161, Sherief Sutton 6-78, Corey Hartz 5-16, Zach Steffee 4-13, Team 1-(-11).
   Passing -- William Penn, James Way 5-13-0-46; Central York, Corey Hartz 9-13-0-110, Marquis Fells 1-1-0-17.
   Receiving -- William Penn, Jomar Dickson 2-26, Derek Wilson 1-14, Jon Philips 1-7, Bryshon Sweeney 1-(-1); Central York, Darian Hampton 6-62, Marquis Fells 2-46, Zach Emswiler 1-12, Sherief Sutton 1-7.