Central in a groove against Grove City
By John Hartsock
SLIPPERY ROCK — Playing on a snow-covered field amidst heavy snow flurries all evening long at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium Friday night, the Central Scarlet Dragons still made the most of the environment.
The conditions prohibited either team from throwing the ball very effectively, but Central compiled 270 of its 328 total yards via the rush in rolling to a 35-6 mercy-rule win over District 10 champ Grove City in a PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal matchup.
Central junior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine established the state’s single-season high school record for touchdown passes by throwing his 55th and 56th, breaking out of a tie with former Penns Valley quarterback Aaron Tobias.
But it was rushing and defense that carried Central (14-0) into next weekend’s semifinal-round matchup against the winner of today’s WPIAL Class 3A championship game between two teams that are also currently unbeaten — defending state champion Central Valley and North Catholic.
“Our rushing and defense took over,” Central coach Dave Baker said. “Defensively, we stopped them a couple times when we had to, we got pressure on their quarterback, and we didn’t give up any long runs.
“I think the weather was a factor for both teams,” added Baker, whose Dragons limited Grove City to just 76 rushing yards. “Neither team could do what they planned to do offensively tonight. These were far from ideal weather conditions, but this is what you expect weather-wise this time of the year in northwest Pennsylvania.”
Senior running back Parker Gregg rushed for 161 yards on 18 carries, including a game-turning 53-yard touchdown run with two seconds left in the first half that staked Central to a 21-0 lead.
The Scarlet Dragons capitalized on short fields to score their first two touchdowns of the night. Starting from the Grove City 26 on its initial possession, Central took a 7-0 lead when Hoenstine hit sophomore back Hunter Smith with a 1-yard shovel pass for a touchdown to gain the state record.
“It’s a great thing – it’s an honor for him and the school, and he’s earned it,” Baker said of Hoenstine, who tied the state record last Friday.
Gregg also threw a 4-yard halfback option pass to senior tight end Ethan Eicher for a touchdown 51 seconds into the second quarter to give Central a 14-0 lead. Central started that scoring drive at the Grove City 15 after an ill-fated fourth-down running try by Grove City was stopped short of the first down.
Play of the game: Gregg’s 53-yard touchdown run right before halftime gave Central the 21-0 lead. “I was positioned on the opposite side of the field from where I usually am,” Gregg said. “My teammates blocked well, and gave me an open field.”
Players of the game: Along with Gregg’s rushing numbers, Hoenstine also threw for two touchdowns – including an impressive 33-yarder to junior wideout Eli Lingenfelter in the third quarter — and rushed for another on an 18-yard scamper, also in the third.
Unsung heroes: Central’s defensive unit, along with the weather, didn’t allow Grove City to gain any traction all night long.
Most vital statistic: Central nearly doubled up Grove City in total yards (328-176).
Baker: “This is a great feeling, but it wasn’t nearly as easy tonight as the 35-6 score might indicate. (Grove City) is a good team, and we know the WPIAL champion that we play next week is going to be really good. We’re going to have to be at the top of our game to compete successfully.”
Grove City coach Sam Mowery, whose team entered Friday’s game on an eight-game winning streak: “In our last eight games, we were able to get off to good starts. Tonight, we didn’t. Going for the fourth down there in the first half put us in a bad situation.”
Hoenstine (on setting the passing touchdown record): “I’m grateful to my teammates and coaches, and I want to thank everybody, especially my line and all my receivers, for helping me to achieve this.”
Central defensive end Jason Clark: “The players on our defensive unit all trust each other, and we all play a solid game together. We all have each other’s backs out there.”
Notable: Eicher and Kasey Imler recovered fumbles for Central, while Hoenstine made an interception on defense … Zach Rodgers and Gavin Lutz had interceptions for Grove City … Lutz accounted for Grove City’s touchdown by catching an 18-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Hunter Hohman in the fourth quarter.
Records: Central (14-0); Grove City (10-3).
Next week: Central plays the winner of today’s WPIAL Class 3A championship game between Central Valley and North Catholic in a PIAA semifinal game at a site and time to be determined. Grove City’s season is complete.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central 7 14 14 0 — 35
Grove City 0 0 0 6 — 6
C–Smith 1 pass from Hoenstine (Smith kick), 9:36.
C–Eicher 4 pass from Gregg (Smith kick), 11:09.
C–Gregg 53 run (Smith kick), :02.
C—Lingenfelter 33 pass from Hoenstine (Smith kick), 7:02.
C–Hoenstine 18 run (Smith kick), :32.
GC–Lutz 18 pass from Hohman (pass failed), 4:32.
TEAM STATISTICS C GC
First downs 16 10
Total yards 328 176
Rushes-yards 44-270 29-76
Yards passing 58 100
Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 6-13-2 9-21-1
Punts-avg. 2-17 4-27.2
Fumbles-lost 1-0 4-2
Penalties-yards 10-85 5-33
RUSHING: Central: Gregg 18-161, Smith 10-66, Hoenstine 11-51, Rhule 3-0, Baker 1-(-4), Benton 1-(-4). Grove City: Hohman 12-56, Hovis 12-24, Rodgers 1-3, Nemec 4-1.
PASSING: Central: Hoenstine 5-12-2-54; Gregg 1-1-0-4. Grove City: Hohman 9-21-1-100.
RECEIVING: Central: Eicher 2-13, Lingenfelter 1-33, Biesinger 1-6, Gregg 1-5, Smith 1-1. Grove City: Lutz 4-69, Nemec 2-13, Hathaway 1-12, Peirera 1-6, Rodgers 1-0.