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The duel has played out many times at Central York football practice.

On one side is Andrews Dadeboe, the Panthers senior cornerback and a Division I talent who has verbally committed to Buffalo.

Across him is Darian Hampton, the senior receiver who, until this fall, had garnered little attention beyond Central York's locker room. Last season, Hampton had all of seven catches.

This year, however, the practice pairing has been a source of intrigue -- a matchup of two of the top players in the area at their respective positions. While Dadeboe continues his steady arc toward college football's highest level, Hampton has fueled his own, even steeper rise. The 6-foot-2 wideout leads the YAIAA in touchdown coaches (13) and ranks second in receiving yards (838) heading into Central York's District 3 Class AAAA playoff opener Friday at home against Chambersburg.

Hampton's development has provided another outlet for the Panthers' big-strike attack -- made those practice matchups a bit more interesting.

"Me and him battle all the time," Hampton said of Dadeboe. "We're talking to each other at practice, during school. It just makes us both better."

And, by extension, the Panthers' offense.

Hampton is far from the only threat in that group -- one keyed by do-it-all senior running back Marquis Fells and senior quarterback Corey Hartz, whose 1,862 passing yards and 24 touchdown throws are both second best in the YAIAA.


That unit presents Central's greatest source of optimism, as it tries to replicate last season's run to the district semifinals -- where the then-No. 7 seed Panthers nearly upset eventual state champion Central Dauphin.

There are similarities between that Central York team and this one. Both were middle seeds in the playoffs (the Panthers are ranked No. 8 this time). Both thrived behind explosive offenses that prioritized the passing game.

"The experience we got last year in the playoffs will definitely help us," Hartz said. "It lets us know that we've been here before, we know what happens. Anything can happen during the game."

The Panthers actually have been even better on offense this year -- they're posting 35.5 points and 356.9 yards per game, up from the 33.8 and 326.9 they averaged last year.

Which brings us back to Hampton.

Last year, he dwelled in the shadow of then-top receiver Jalil Ford. The talent was there, but something else was missing.

"I think there's a level of maturity that hasn't been there before," Central York coach Brad Livingston said earlier this season.

The coach went on to say that Hampton "does not even maybe understand or appreciate the amount of talent he has."

Those abilities are starting to show up, however. In a Week 9 game against Red Lion, Hampton caught 10 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 19.5 yards per reception.

That vertical threat has had a trickle-down effect for Fells, fellow running back Sherief Sutton and others.

"Knowing I can go deep for him, it opens everything up down low," Hartz said.

Added Hampton: "I get it from all the coaches. I even get it from my dad. He tells me how good I can be.

"I think they're just trying to get across that, since I've matured over the last couple years, just use what God gave you."

* * *

Cooley's incredible career: With his remarkable, record-shattering season now in the books, let's take a moment and appreciate the play of Eastern York running back Alex Cooley.

With his career-capping 10-touchdown, 495-rushing yard performance Saturday -- during a beyond-wild, 81-56 win at York County Tech -- Cooley now owns the top two single-game rushing performances in state history. His 500-yard outing at Hanover on Sept. 28 stands as the PIAA record.

Cooley finished the campaign with a YAIAA single-season record 2,845 rushing yards. That's also the sixth-highest single-season total ever in the state. Cooley added 37 rushing touchdowns and averaged 11.03 yards per carry.

And he did all of it in 10 games.

In his four-year career, Cooley ran for a league-record 6,015 yards.

Bobcats down a player: Northeastern will play its District 3 Class AAA playoff opener at West York without its leading receiver.

Senior Braheem Riley will miss the game after he was ejected during the closing seconds of the Bobcats' win at Kennard-Dale on Saturday. PIAA rules stipulate a player or coach ejected from a contest must serve a one-game suspension.

Riley leads Northeastern with 328 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season. He also has two interceptions on defense.

@johnsclayton; 771-2045