By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
GROVE CITY — Short of winning an NCAA Division III championship, there’s no better conclusion to a campaign than copping The Cup.
“Honestly?” rhetorically asked Grove City College senior linebacker Jason Ferguson. “I knew one of these was going to be my last play, and I just wanted to give everything I had and stay focused at the same time. It worked out for the good, for
Ferguson foiled 2nd-half Thiel scoring drives with a fumble recovery, tackle-for-loss and interception Saturday afternoon, and the host Wolverines won the 2012 Mercer County Cup via a 21-7 Presidents’ Athletic Conference conquest.
At Robert E. Thorn Field, Ferguson was one of 16 Grove City seniors who concluded their collegiate careers by collecting the Cup for a 6th straight season. GCC leads the all-time Cup series, 20-9.
“The meaning of the game, with the Mercer County Cup, has grown every year,” Wolverines’ head coach Chris Smith asserted. “It’s a lot of enjoyment for me because, back when we started it in (nineteen) eighty-four it was not a very big profile at that time. But now it’s huge.
“You want to win it every year. It’s important to the seniors,” Smith continued. “I know the Thiel kids want to win it, too, and I encourage them. It’s a tough one: You want a rivalry to go back and forth, but at the same time, you don’t want to lose.”
Quarterback Brian Pell passed to Anthony Ritchie for 10- and 13-yard touchdowns in the 1st and 2nd quarters, respectively, giving Grove City (5-4, 6-4) a 14-0 margin at intermission.
Josh Potter pulled Thiel (3-5, 3-7) within 14-7 at the 10:17 segment of the 3rd period when he culminated an 8-play, 86-yard series with a 9-yard run.
Ferguson finished with a game-high dozen tackles — half of them solos — 3 of which were for losses, in addition to the 3rd-quarter fumble recovery and 4th-frame interception.
Thiel trailed 14-7 with approximately 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, but with a 1st-and-goal at the Grovers’ 9-yard line. However a holding call took the Tomcats back to the 18. Then on the ensuing play Josh Potter’s fumble was feasted upon by Ferguson.
The Wolverines went 84 yards on a dozen plays, with Pell pushing in from 4 yards out around the left side, giving Grove City a 21-7 lead with 10:57 left.
The Tomcats traveled to Grove City’s 3-yard line via a 10-play, 70-yard series. However on 2nd down Ferguson fired in a gap to take down Taylor Fink for a 2-yard loss. Andew Smith’s 3rd- and 4th-down passes to Zane Garza and Bill Frizzi, respectively, fell incomplete.
“The tackle-for-loss down at the goal line was really important,” Smith said, “cause that took them from a third-and-two situation to a fourth-and-five. And play selection-wise, there’s a world of difference in those two calls.
“He’s been a great football player for us,” Smith said of Ferguson, who missed the entire 2011 season owing to a knee injury, but concluded his GCC career as the program’s 4th-leading tackler. “We’re just fortunate to have him, and it’s a talented and very good senior class. We’re gonna miss all of them.”
Ferguson’s final play was pilfering Smith’s 4th-and-1 pass at midfield with less than 3 minutes remaining. Inexplicably, following a 4-yard return he attempted to lateral to teammate Joe Diani, but it resulted in a 7-yard loss.
“He will never do that in another football game here at Grove City College,” a smiling Smith said.
The Tomcats tallied 3 triumphs, exceeding the program’s output from the past 3 seasons combined.
“Our goal, as I told the kids, is to win the conference and go to the national playoffs,” 3rd-year Thiel taskmaster Kurt Reiser related. “We treated (Satur)day like a first-round playoff game. We wanted to make sure to have them feel what it’s like to play in that type of game, because that’s where we want to get to.
“ ... And I think we’ve done that,” Reiser continued, concluding while thinking forward 365 days to the 2013 Mercer County Cup contest at Greenville’s Alumni Stadium.