By Madeline Williams
Allied News Sports Correspondent
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
It was a decade in the making, but it was certainly worth the wait for the Slippery Rock Rockets.
At Slippery Rock on Homecoming night Friday, the undefeated Rockets of coach Brendan Hathaway defeated long-time rival Grove City, 49-21. It marked the first time since Week 2 of the 2003 season that the Rockets upended the Eagles.
“Grove City always has a great program, so any time you can go toe-to-toe with a team like them, you have to be happy with where you’re at,” Hathaway said.
After a disappointing 0-10 season in 2010, and a combined 16-6 record over the past two seasons, the consistently building Rockets are looking to be a playoff contender this year.
“Every team we’ve had at Slippery Rock has helped build what these guys are doing,” Hathaway said. “I think the 0-10 team has a lot to do with the outcome tonight. Even those guys didn’t quit. We’ve been building up to this moment over the past four years.”
The Rockets (7-0) scored on the opening drive off a 42-yard touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Jake Whitmer to Chris Reeseman. Mark Cessar kicked his first of seven successful extra points.
On the next drive, the visiting Eagles (4-3) went the length of the field but were shut down at the 1-yard line by the Slippery Rock defense. The Rockets turned around and scored off of a 77-yard pass from Whitmer to Brady Kadlubek.
“That was a huge momentum killer for us,” said Grove City head coach Jeff Bell. “If we could have could have answered back there and tied it up, that would have been really big for us. But them scoring on the next drive was a real back-breaker.”
“After the Slippery Rock touchdown, Grove City fumbled the ball on the next possession to set up the Rockets at the 50-yard line. SR’s Frank Conlon powered in a 15-yard touchdown with four Eagle defenders on his back to give the home team a 21-0 lead at the start of the 2nd quarter.
“Grove City put some points on the board before halftime when Foster Reznor scored on a short 3-yard run. Dylan Nelson’s extra point was good.
Coming back from the half, Conlon scored again for the Rockets on a 14-yard run and Cessar tacked on the extra point to give the team a 28-7 lead.
GC responded with a touchdown of their own when quarterback Jared Graham had two complete passes and ran the ball 5 yards into the end zone.
On the next drive, Slippery Rock’s offensive line opened up a big hole for Travis Lauster to run the ball 56 yards for a touchdown. Cessar’s extra point attempt was good.
Slippery Rock would score two more touchdowns to secure the win, via a 3-yard run by Jared McDowell and a 37-yard sprint by Ryan Lauster.
The final scoring play for the Eagles came during the closing minutes of the final frame when D’Andre Byers scored on a 35-yard run. Nelson kicked the extra point.
Slippery Rock did a much better job of throwing the ball than Bell and the Eagles expected, tossing for 169 yards.
“Against a team like Slippery Rock, you have to take one aspect of their game away,” Bell said. “We came in here wanting to stop the run and hoping to make them pitch the ball. They just did a much better job than we anticipated.”
Conlon led the Rockets with 170 yards on 14 carries. Travis Lauster and Ryan Lauster each had 100 and 92 rushing yards, respectively. Kadlubeck had 111 receiving yards and Reeseman had 58, each on two catches apiece.
Reznor led the running game for the Eagles with 92 yards on 17 carries and Jesse Hodge had a 45-yard completed catch.
Friday’s win for the Rockets was a true test of talent for the team, Hathaway commented.
“Grove City is by far the best team we’ve played so far, maybe the best team we’ll play in the regular season,” Hathaway said. “I think this win gives the kids the validation of what they’re doing Monday through Thursday in practice.
Slippery Rock hopes to keep their undefeated record alive as they travel to Franklin on Friday for a Region 5-AAA game. The Rockets are 3-0 in the region, while Franklin is 1-2 and 2-5 overall.
The Eagles will look to bounce back from the loss on Friday at Titusville in a Region 3-AA matchup. Grove City is 3-2 in the region and Titusville 0-5 and 0-7 overall.