YORK — York High’s football team has been overlooked for much of the season. The Wildcats proved Saturday afternoon that they’re for real.

Second-seeded York used a ferocious defensive effort and a couple big offensive plays to beat third-seeded Wells, 28-8, in a Class C South semifinal, ending the Warriors’ bid for a fourth consecutive state championship.

Wells (7-3) won back-to-back Class D titles in 2017 and 2018 after winning the Class C championship in 2016.

Riley Johnston scored on two long touchdown passes – 57 and 60 yards – and Riley Linn returned an interception 40 yards for another score as York (9-1) defeated Wells for the second time in three weeks.

“For the last three or four years now, we’ve made the plays,” said Wells Coach Tom Roche. “Today we didn’t. And they did.”

York will play for the regional title next weekend at top-seeded Leavitt.

“We played the best defensive game we’ve played all year,” said York senior defensive end Noah Caramihalis. “To hold a team like that to eight points is hard to do. Our line really stepped up.”

York intercepted three passes. Caramihalis blocked a punt and forced and recovered a fumble.

“They have those big bruising strong backs,” said York Coach Matt Nelson. “To have our players stand them up and play the way they did was impressive to watch. It was fun to watch.”

It was a much tighter game than their previous meeting in the regular-season finale on Oct. 25 – a 48-27 York victory. Wells played much better defensively, but again was hurt by big pass plays.

York took the lead in the first quarter on a 57-yard pass from Teagan Hynes to Johnston.

The Wildcats’ next big play swung the momentum.

Wells had taken an 8-6 lead with 1:08 remaining in the first half when Payton MacKay (156 yards rushing) plowed in from the 1 and then ran for the conversion, after York went offside on the PAT kick.

Two plays and 33 seconds later, the Wildcats were back in front. Johnston took a screen pass from Hynes and weaved his way through the Wells defense, slipping a final tackle at the 10 for a 60-yard touchdown and a 14-8 lead.

Johnston said he was just hoping to get a first down. “I got some great blocking and kept going,” he said.

Then Linn made his big play with 11.7 seconds left in the third quarter, stepping in front of a receiver and returning the interception for a touchdown that made it 21-8.

“They run that play a lot,” said Linn. “I recognized it and bit on it early, and then I just ran for the end zone.”

And now the Wildcats are headed to their first regional final since 2014.

“It took a long time for people to give us the respect we deserve,” said Caramihalis. “People kept thinking we wouldn’t win, wouldn’t do this, but we showed up every day.”

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