By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Looking at the calendar the District 4 Class AA playoffs don’t start until three weeks after Lewisburg and Central Columbia kickoff at 7 p.m. at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium on Friday night in a Heartland Athletic Conference-Division II match up.
However, with the usual dogfight for a spot and seedings already underway in Class AA, both the Blue Jays’ and Green Dragons’ playoffs begin this week.
Central Columbia (3-4 overall, 2-2 HAC-II) despite a victory last week over Class AAAA Central Mountain still sits just outside the top eight seeds in District 4 Class AA, but the Blue Jays are certainly still a threat for one of the eight bids as long as they keep winning. Central Columbia is currently 10th, 140 points behind current No. 8-seed North Penn.
“Our kids understand our backs are against the wall when it comes to the playoffs,” Central Columbia coach Jason Hippenstiel said. “We must keep winning football games.”
The Blue Jays are certainly battle tested with games against Montoursville, Mount Carmel and Danville already this season, plus Central Columbia has already knocked off Loyalsock, which currently sits third in the district points.
“We embrace our tough schedule,” Hippenstiel said. “Playing great programs week-in-and-week-out only makes us better.”
Lewisburg (5-2, 1-2) is certainly in better shape than the Blue Jays, currently sitting fifth in the points, but its berth is far from assured. After Friday night’s game with the Blue Jays, Lewisburg wraps its season with two other playoff hopefuls — Loyalsock and Mifflinburg.
Turnovers will be key in Friday night’s contest. The Green Dragons have been ballhawks on defense, forcing 22 turnovers this season, split evenly between fumble recoveries and interceptions. Junior safety Drew Newcomb has picked off eight passes this season.
The Blue Jays have had some turnover issues this season, including three last week against Central Mountain.
“Our offensive line must continue to play at a high level, but the most important thing is that we win the turnover battle,” Hippenstiel said. “After we beat Loyalsock, we lost our next three football games and lost the turnover battle 14-0. That just doesn’t win football games. Last week was better, but still too sloppy to beat Lewisburg.”
Central Columbia appears to have found some weapons offensively over the past few weeks. Danny Koch, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound junior, has emerged as the Blue Jays top rushing threat this season. He leads the team with 475 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
Junior receiver Lewis Williams had just two catches through the first two games, but hasn’t been held under that amount until last week against Central Mountain. All Williams did in that game against the Wildcats is catch two passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Williams has a team-high 16 grabs for 312 yards and three scores.
Lewisburg is coming off the best performance by its offensive line this season. The team ran for 296 yards in a 49-0 win over Warrior Run last week.
“It was our best game up front all season,” Lewisburg coach Jeremy Winn said. “It was nice to see the things we’ve been working on all season really show up (in that game).”
It’s an improvement that Hippenstiel noticed as well.
“I really like how quick their offensive line gets on their blocks,” Hippenstiel said.
Lewisburg will also be looking for a measure of revenge after falling behind the Blue Jays on the road last year before dropping a 16-15 decision. It might have cost the Green Dragons a shot at the HAC-II title last year.
“We can’t come out with the lack of intensity that we did in the first half of the game last year,” Winn said. “We have to get off to a quick start.”