Slippery Rock to host defending District 10 champion Grove City
SLIPPERY ROCK — The lead-up to a rivalry clash is supposed to be obsessive, a team solely concerned on putting away the adversary they know all too well and claiming bragging rights.
Not with Larry Wendereusz. Not this week.
Putting together a complete performance against Grove City (2-2) is just as much a goal to the Slippery Rock (1-3) football coach as getting back in the feud’s win column.
“We are prepping and understanding the task ahead of us — knowing that we haven’t played to our ability to this point — and working to get to that expectation that we have on how we play the game,” Wendereusz said.
The Rockets are aiming to rebound from a 23-6 road loss to Sharpsville last Friday. Slippery Rock has yet to find firm footing on the attack, as it hasn’t scored more than once offensively in a game in almost a month.
“I think it’s interesting, offensively,” Wendereusz said. “When you have one mistake, it affects the whole thing. Defensively, someone can screw up and, if the ball goes the other way, it doesn’t matter. Offensively, if one guy screws up, it’s usually detrimental to the offense.
“Unfortunately, we have nine guys that are doing a great job and two guys that aren’t — and each play, it changes and you have those situations. We just need to become consistent on every play of what we’re doing.”
Receiver Sam Schwartz — who paces the team with 169 yards and three touchdowns on 18 grabs — has been synonymous with stability for the attack. When the Rockets need a big play, Wendereusz said, he’s typically the player to make it.
“He’s been that guy for us to this point,” the coach added. “I’m sure, as we move forward, teams are going to know that and understand that, so we’re going to need other players to step up and be able to take some of those big plays away from Sam.”
Sharpsville entered last week averaging 60.6 points per game — which sounds more like a day on the hardwood than the turf. A Slippery Rock defensive unit featuring Schwartz and defensive ends Ian Fair and Cade Grossman held them to 16 points through the contest’s initial 46 minutes.
That’s a level of play it would like to replicate against Grove City, who beat Sharon, 17-14, last week. The week before, in a loss against Farrell, the Eagles didn’t cross the goal-line on offense.
“Regardless of record, it’s always a great game,” Eagles coach Sam Mowry said of the annual tilt. “I think (it’s) two programs that respect each other and we know they’re going to be well-coached and they’re going to come out and play hard. That would be a huge mistake, to overlook anyone.”
Grove City emerged from the teams’ two encounters a season ago — a one-point triumph in the regular season and a 42-23 outcome in the District 10 Region 3 title game. Dating back to 2017, Slippery Rock has only won two of 10 meetings with Grove City.
Does that stick with the Rockets?
“Not at all,” Wendereusz said. “At this point, it’s a new year, it’s a different group. We’ve got to go get it. ... We need to go out and do our job better than they’ve been doing theirs. If we can do that, then we win a football game.”
Senior Eagles quarterback Hunter Hohman — a three-year starter — has 446 passing yards and a team-leading 337 yards on the ground. Fellow senior Bode Stevenson has added 14 totes for 78 yards and a score.
“It’s just sort of how these opening games have gone,” Mowry said. “He (Hohman) has had to run the ball a little bit more. That’s something that we know is an opportunity. It’s not something we’d like to live on.”
Slippery Rock quarterback Eli Anderson leads his crew in rushing with 105 yards on 29 tries. Grove City’s typical carry has been good for 5.5 yards, while the Rockets don’t have a rusher averaging more than Anderson’s 3.6 yards per give.
“What people don’t see and what they don’t talk about is how well their front line plays both offensively and defensively,” Wendereusz explained. “They are both really good and do a nice job of protecting him (Hohman) and opening holes for everybody.”
Seniors Marcello Trezona, Adan Navarro, and Kyle Enscoe control the line of scrimmage on offense. Sophomore Delathian Bones and junior Jack Wolfe are also part of that front.
“Everything starts up front,” Mowry said.
While at this point Wendereusz might view it as any other region game, Mowry admits it’s one his side looks ahead to.
“These two teams have played just some great football games over the past several years — and I guess you can go back decades and decades through that,” he said. “It means a lot, these close geographical rivalries. It’s always a game that’s circled on the calendar.”