By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Correspondent
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
SLIPPERY ROCK – The Grove City football team has been inactive for over two weeks and those 15 days had head coach Jeff Bell worried sick.
As it turns out, the veteran Eagle coach had nothing to worry about as his Eagles walloped North East 56-14 Saturday evening in the District 10 Class AA quarterfinals at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
“You never know what’s going to happen after you take a week off,” Bell said. “You never how the kids will respond. We had a great week of practice. I told them before the game ‘If you play the way you practiced, I like our chances.’ Offensively, we moved the ball. We were able to throw the ball and had some key passes in key situations. ‘Rez’ had some nice catches.”
The Eagles (9-1) will attempt to exact some revenge from rival and state-ranked Hickory (9-1), who dealt GC its lone loss on the season back in September, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium. The Hornets demolished Northwestern 48-22 in their playoff opener.
“We told the kids that we wanted to walk off the field tonight 1-0 and we’re 1-0,” Bell said. “Let’s hope that we can walk off the field 2-0 (after Saturday’s D-10 semifinal game against Hickory). (The first game against Hickory) was probably our worst game of the year without a doubt, but that’s a testament to Hickory. They’re a great football team. We had quite a few injuries (in the first game with Hickory) and most of those kids are back now. We’ll work hard this weekend, getting a game plan together. The kids will work hard next week. Hopefully, we can play another good football game.”
Grove City’s win over the Grapepickers (7-4) capped off an impressive weekend sweep for Mercer County’s 8 Class A and Class AA playoff participants – who outscored their northern counterparts 367-96 – ensuring both classifications’ will have a Mercer County champion.
“That’s a testament to the coaching staffs in our region,” Bell said. “I think that prepares us for the playoffs. By the time you’re in the playoffs, you’re ready. Now, we have to knock each other out. In Mercer County, you better have a good coaching staff. You won’t be able to compete (if you don’t). It’s loaded. I don’t care if it’s A, AA or AAA. You better have a good coaching staff or you’ll be in trouble.”
Grove City did whatever it wanted offensively – never needing to punt – rolling up 394 yards of total offense, including 272 on the ground.
“It was a good win,” said junior running back Foster Reznor, who had a combined 135 yards of total offense (45 rushing and 90 receiving) and three touchdowns Saturday. “We came out fired up. We executed everything we practiced. We practiced throwing the ball a lot this week. Jared is a good quarterback. Our running game is always good. We have a good line. We can move the ball on pretty much anybody. We know if we can get out quick on teams that they’ll get down on themselves and we’ll be fine.”
The Eagles were ‘fine’ Saturday evening thanks in large part to the performances of a pair of youngsters playing in their first varsity playoff game.
Quarterback Jared Graham and fullback Tanner Lucido – both sophomores – shined brightly for the Eagles in their first playoff starts. Lucido rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown, while Graham completed 8-of-9 passes for 122 yards and 3 scores.
“Jared has been coming on and coming on all year long,” Bell said. “We couldn’t be happier with the progress he’s made and what he’s meant to our football team. If he keeps working, he’s going to be a heck of a quarterback by the time he’s done. He did some nice things down here tonight. He gets better every week. We’re going to need a good game out of him next week.”
“Tanner is a kid that works so hard. He worked hard in the offseason and worked hard in practice. We’ve started to give him more playing time in the second half of the season. For a kid that hasn’t had a whole lot of varsity experience, he did a heck of a job in his first playoff game. He’s only a sophomore and he’s only going to get better. Sometimes when you’re forced into some things, the kids will surprise you. He did exactly what we asked him to do.”
The Eagles jumped out to a commanding 28-7 lead at halftime on the strength of 2 touchdowns apiece from Foster Reznor (5-yard run and 31-yard pass) and Chad Williams (2-yard run and 12-yard pass).
Grove City blew the game wide open in the third quarter, scoring 21 unanswered points with the touchdowns coming from Reznor (6-yard pass), Williams (2-yard run) and Lucido (6-yard run).
North East’s Corey Voorhis and Grove City’s Tom Kosick scored in mercy rule shortened fourth quarter.
“I think it was pristine,” said senior running back Chad Williams, who finished the game with a team-high 82 yards rushing and another 32 yards through the air. “It was one of the best offensive games we’ve had in a while. Coach DeGraaf gives the ball to everybody. He spreads the ball out pretty evenly. Props to the line, we couldn’t do it without them. They fired off and got their blocks. We ran hard. Jared Graham ran hard. Tanner Lucido stepped up big time.”
Rocky Owens, who scored North East’s initial touchdown on a 3-yard run to open the second quarter, led the Grapepickers (7-4) with 92 yards rushing on 16 totes.
“It feels great,” Williams said. “We have a couple key players out. It hurts, but we had other people step up. We did fine. Kyle Trinch moved to outside ‘backer. I moved to middle ‘backer. It worked out. They had a couple good drives. They were hitting us on midlines and bellies, but the line stepped up. We just came to play.”
Notes: Grant Craig blocked a punt and recovered the loose ball. … Ethan Yalch had a sack for Grove City, who had 3 penalties for 11 yards. … Reznor had five receptions and Williams pulled in three passes. … The Eagles had 26 first downs to the ‘Pickers’ 10. … North East managed just 201 yards of offense against the Eagles. … Voorhis left the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury. … Grove City was playing without 2 players due to disciplinary reasons. … Hickory (6th) and Grove City (8th) are both ranked in the Harrisburg Patriot-News’ Class AA poll. … Greenville and Wilmington will meet up in the other D-10 semifinal at 7 p.m. Saturday also at SRU.
Whenever Lakeview quarterback Zach Bigley touched the ball, the outcome was excellent for the Sailors during their District 10 Class A quarterfinal game against Eisenhower on Friday in Warren. Bigley galloped for three touchdowns and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to help the Sailors win going away, 36-6.
Bigley ran for 156 yards on six attempts and completed all three of his pass attempts for 81 yards during his big night. But the game wasn’t all Bigley — the Lakeview defense recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes to advance to the district semifinals to face Region 1 rival Sharpsville at 7 p.m. Friday at Grove City High School stadium.
Friday’s game was much different from Lakeview (7-4) and Eisenhower’s previous meeting in 2011. The Sailors won last year’s game 24-19, but Eisenhower (8-3) didn’t score until trailing 22-0 in the third quarter yesterday.
“It’s nice because I knew coming in that Eisenhower had a good team,” Lakeview head coach Dan York said. “We played them the last two years. We were very fortunate to win by one score (last year). I didn’t really expect this.”
Blake Reddick added 147 yards on 25 carries and Nate Kokoski totaled 58 yards on 14 attempts. But it was Bigley who managed the big plays. His touchdown runs were from 19, 72 and 64 yards away for the Sailors, who are the No. 4 team out of Region 1.
Region 2 champion Eisenhower shot itself in the foot all game long. John Pascuzzi, one of District 10’s leading rushers in 2012, lost three fumbles and was held to 75 yards on 15 carries.
“That was the key because Mercer and Conneaut, the two teams that beat Eisenhower this season, held him to under 100 yards rushing,” Kokoski said.
“This week during practice we focused on him and shutting him down.”
Bigley’s 19-yarder capped Lakeview’s first scoring drive, which amassed 53 yards on six plays. Pascuzzi then fumbled twice during a 31-yard run on Eisenhower’s ensuing drive and the Sailors pounced on the second bobble.
Eight Lakeview plays later and Bigley hooked up with Brandon Rice for a 35-yard touchdown pass on third-and-six. Eisenhower appeared to put together its first scoring drive late in the second quarter, but a huge hit at the 11-yard line by Lakeview’s Sam Breese led to Pascuzzi’s second lost fumble. The Sailors recovered and led 16-0 at the break.
“I think our defense was bigger than our offense tonight,” Bigley said.
Eisenhower recovered an onside kick to start the second half but Zach VanDusen’s interception of Aaron Lundmark gave Lakeview the ball back.
Three Lakeview plays later, Bigley went right, bounced off an ankle tackle attempt and raced to the left for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 22-0 Sailors.
Eisenhower’s only touchdown was scored by Pascuzzi from a yard away, but the Sailors came right back with a six-play, 50-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard TD run by Kokoski.
Eisenhower moved the ball down to Lakeview’s 21 before turning it over on downs. That’s when Lakeview put together its final scoring drive. This one took seven plays and was finished off by Bigley’s 64-yard jaunt down the left side.
“He looks a little faster on turf,” York said about Bigley. “Maybe we can talk to our athletic director about putting turf in. It helps us a little bit.”
Rice intercepted a Lundmark pass on the next Eisenhower drive before the Sailors ran the clock out.
Lakeview is hungry after its 42-0 loss on Oct. 19 to Sharpsville.
“I really want that game back,” Kokoski said. “That’s a game I took very personally and I think that if we can come out and play like we did the last two weeks, I think we can give Sharpsville a run for their money.”