Earlier this week, Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk and his staff made an assertion while watching game film of Dallastown.
"That's the best tackling team we've seen all year," he said Friday night after Dallastown advanced in the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs with a 37-20 win.
Turns out the Wildcats are good in coverage, too.
Senior linebacker Jonah Mays' two interceptions and a powerful run game led the Wildcats to their first district victory since 2010, when Mays and many of his teammates were freshmen. They just watched back then -- all while turning in an unbeaten season of their own.
Now as seniors, Mays and the Wildcats (9-2) will get one more game on the grass at Dallastown. They will face Central Dauphin East, a 22-20 winner against sixth-seeded Governor Mifflin on a field goal in the final 30 seconds.
The district's No. 3 seed, Dallastown, did not let Lebanon (7-4) make it that close. However the Cedars, who were 0-10 just a year ago, did take a 6-0 lead.
They did pounce on all four Dallastown fumbles.
They also moved the ball through the air, as senior quarterback Mark Pyles finished with 292 yards.
What Lebanon did not have was a defensive front like Dallastown.
"As we progressed, we knew we had to take care of the ball," said Catchings, who rushed 18 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns. "Our line is a big key, and our defense stepped up a lot."
Catchings' running in the second half behind his offensive line produced both of his scores. On the first, he found an opening and cut left toward the Dallastown sideline for a 67-yard jaunt. His second came at a crucial point as Dallastown's lead shrunk to just 23-20.
A Lebanon penalty on its kickoff allowed the Wildcats to start from their opponent's 45-yard line. Dallastown ran seven plays, all runs and five to Catchings. The highlight was a 20-yard run up the middle that included stiff-arm from Catchings. He finished it with a 3-yard run in which he used his speed to maneuver around blockers on his right edge with no holes inside.
Later, Mays sealed victory with his second interception of Pyles. His first came in the end zone with Lebanon driving with a 13-6 score. Instead, the Wildcats marched out from the 2 and ended the half with a McKinley Curran field goal.
"The key in my opinion was that darn interception at the goal line because we had a wide-open touchdown," Yonchiuk said. "That's a 10-point swing. At that point when it's 23-20, I look at the scoreboard and say 'aww, it should be a tie ballgame.'"
Instead, Dallastown controlled the ball for much of the game. The Wildcats ran 51 times, producing 261 yards via that route. Quarterback Andrew Henry was just as effective running (23 carries for 80 yards) as passing (115).
Dallastown coach Kevin Myers said running to keep the ball away from Lebanon and Pyles was his gameplan. Fortunately for the coach, he also had a linebacker in Mays.
"He does a pretty good job of hanging there in the middle," Myers said. "He tipped one and it happened to fall into his hands. Jonah is in the right place and the right time a lot of times."
Mays has started since he was a sophomore, that fall after Dallastown's last district victory. An All-YAIAA selection last year at linebacker, his senior year took a hit early when he suffered a right ankle sprain against Penn Manor, another district playoff team.
Dallastown suffered its first loss when Mays was hurt. He missed the Wildcats' next game, but made his presence felt again Friday night. His teammates helped keep Pyles, who ran for 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,000 this year, to just 51 yards on the ground.
"We tried to contain as much as we could with the quarterback," Mays said, "and not let the receivers get behind us."
The Cedars' four-year starter was thwarted through the air on three interceptions, the two from Mays and another by Malik Lewis, whose one-handed grab ended Lebanon's first drive of the third quarter. It also made Lewis' two first-half punt return fumbles a distant memory.
Afterward, they -- along with their teammates -- were swarmed by Dallastown fans who ran out from the same opening the Wildcats use to enter the field on Friday nights. It could have been their final time playing on that turf. Instead, they will have a chance next week to advance further in the district tournament.
"We never really experienced something like that," Mays said. "It was exciting."
Lebanon 6 0 6 8 -- 20
Dallastown 7 9 7 14 -- 37
L -- Jeremy De la Cruz 3 pass from Mark Pyles (kick failed), 7:34.
Dt -- Andrew Henry 1 run (McKinley Curran kick), 2:41.
Dt -- Dezmond Jones 3 run (kick failed), 6:47.
Dt -- Curran 27 FG, 0:00.
Dt -- Robert Catchings 67 run (Curran kick), 3:09.
L -- De la Cruz 16 pass from Pyles (pass failed), 1:01.
L -- Pyles 1 run (Nicholas Negron pass from Pyles), 8:07.
Dt -- Catchings 3 run (Curran kick), 4:51.
Dt -- Owen Ritter 20 pass from Henry (Curran kick), 2:40.
First downs 15 20
Rushes-yards 22-53 51-261
Passing 25-36-3 9-15-0
Passing yards 292 115
Total yards 345 376
Punts 4-33.3 2-39.5
Fumbles-lost 3-1 4-4
Penalties-yards 10-93 6-45
Rushing -- L, Pyles 20-51, Daniel Caricabeur 1-2, Luke Eisenhour 1-0. Dt, Catchings 18-140, Henry 23-80, Jones 10-41.
Passing -- L, Pyles 25-36-3-292. Dt, Henry 9-15-0-115
Receiving -- L, De la Cruz 8-99, Eisenhour 8-41, Negron 5-95, Omel Francois 2-25, Jeronimo Rodriguez 1-18, Xavier Baez 1-14. Dt, Ritter 2-27, Malik Lewis 2-25, Drew Romesberg 2-24, Addison Quinones 2-13, Catchings 1-26.