SHARON – It would be preposterous to presume the PIAA playoffs could surpass Friday night’s District 10 Region 5 showdown in Sharon.
Sharon spotted Grove City a 16-0 second-stanza lead before the Tigers roared back for a 30-23 homecoming win at Tiger Stadium in a rematch of last season’s District 10 Class 3A championship.
The Tigers’ triumph was their 5th straight, while Grove City was saddled with its 2nd straight setback – the first time for that occurrence since late in the 2015 season.
“ ... It was a really, really great atmosphere! It’s why Tiger Stadium is one of the best places to play,” gushed 1st-year Sharon skipper Jason McElhaney.
“It was a great high school football game . ... It was a great matchup on both sides by all athletes,” assessed Grove City Head Coach Sam Mowrey. “Both teams left it out there on the field, and that’s what high school football is. You have ups and downs ... “
Ironically, in spite of almost 900 total yards accumulated by the teams, the Tigers’ tipping point was a deflected Logan Breese pass by Aaron Allenbaugh that was hauled in by linemate Thomas Dawson with 44.2 ticks to play.
“Hey, the defense rose up,” McElhaney mused. “Huge play! Just heads-up! Coach Dan Schneider – he’s our ‘old guy’ on the staff – he always talks about, ‘If you can’t get there, get the hands up and somethin’ will happen,’ and thankfully for us it did, because I didn’t want to have to sit over there (sideline) and have to watch us defend a couple more passes.”
There were numerous statistical standouts, including Grove City’s Colby Nelson, Jake Reddick and Breese and Sharon’s Ty Eilam, Trey Jones and Ja’On Phillips and Marcel Smith-Austin.
Then there was Sharon senior signal-caller Lane Voytik, who victimized Grove City for a 29-for-40, 386-yard passing performance that included scoring strikes of 6 and 35 yards to Eilam, 35 yards to Jones and a 5-yarder to Tyvell Richardson.
The Tigers tied the tilt at 16 less than 2 full minutes into the 2nd half on Voytik’s 35-yard TD toss to Jones and their subsequent 2-point PAT. Nelson knotted the count at 23 (augmented by John Hake’s PAT) on a 1-yard burst on the 4th frame’s 1st play.
“ ... I’m at a loss for words for what this team’s accomplishing ... it’s obviously very exciting,” Voytik understated. “Coach McElhaney ... whenever we were oh-and-two, he said, ‘We’re those dogs in the corner; those are the worst dogs to play with,’ and look at us now, five in-a-row.”
Eilam eventually caught the game-winner, the 35-yarder on a 4th-and-7 play with 9:33 remaining, part of his 7-catch contribution that accounted for 90 yards.
In the stead of suspended Sharon senior standout C.J. Parchman, Jones jolted Grove City for a game-high 10-catch, 155-yard performance, while Phillips finished with a handful of receptions for 71 yards.
“You hadn’t heard much from Trey since week one – he played really well against Wilmington, but hadn’t done a lot – but he made a lot of good catches for us,” McElhaney praised. “Everybody knows about Ty ... but Marcel (Smith-Austin) stepped in (6 catches, 67 yards), and Marcel’s such a hard-nosed player ... and Ja-On Phillips came off the bench, playin’ in place of C.J. Parchman and made some GREAT plays – the one-hander on the sideline here on the drive to score before the half (drawing Sharon within 16-8) was huge!”
Sharon (3-1 region, 5-2 overall) started the season with consecutive setbacks. After pitching 3 consecutive shutouts it has outscored Conneaut Area, then Grove City.
“We have really good senior leadership,” McElhaney praised. “Those guys are here workin’ every day, and it makes my job so much easier to have guys like Marcel and Lane and all of our seniors who have been through this thing and know about it. They just show up to work, and that gives these other guys kind’ve the blue-print for what I’ve gotta do.”
As they’ve done for 3-plus season, Grove City’s Eagles exasperate opposing defenses. Nelson notched a game-high 30-carry, 124-yard rushing performance that also included a 3-yard TD just 2 minutes and 15 seconds into the contest, and he also hauled in 7 receptions for 40 yards. Additionally, Reddick reeled in a half-dozen aerials for 175 yards, including a 74-yard 2nd-stanza scoring strike from Breese with 6:37 remaining to intermission. That elevated the Eagles’ edge to 16-0.
“He’s a warrior,” Mowrey said in praise of Nelson. “They way he plays is the way he practices. He’s a great kid, he’s a great leader, he’s a phenomenal competitor. That (performance) is just normal; I would expect nothin’ less out of him.”
Breese brokered a 16-for-23, 328-yard passing performance that included a 76-yard connection with Sayyid Muhammad that had Grove City on Sharon’s 4-yard line in the 3rd-period’s closing seconds, ultimately setting up Nelson’s score.
“I thought out offensive line did a great job ... I thought our running backs ran hard ... I thought our receivers, boy, did they make some great plays down the field! But, you know, Sharon did, too,” Mowrey mused. “That’s a good, scrappy team. I thought our defense really battled until the bitter end. They got us a stop (Zach Rodgers’ interception of Jones’ flea-flicker pass with 8:34 remaining and Sharon seeking to extend its 30-23 lead) and gave us a chance to go down and finish. We just didn’t quite get that done.”
Grove City (1-2, 5-2) is looking up in the standings, and Mowrey related,
“The message to the boys: These are great experiences to have. I don’t think (the loss) defines the season. We have to continue to get better. I thought we played better (Friday) night than we did last week (in a 21-19 loss at Hickory). We have to go back, re-evaluate and learn from this, and now that’s another week that our boys get to be in an environment like this – a tough road game against a great opponent. (Friday) night we came up a play short, so we’ve gotta continue to get better.
“I think it’s important to be in these type of situations, where it comes down to execution,” Mowrey said. “ ... You know, you get to a point where you start makin’ those plays and they’re gonna make the difference in games. Our boys have nothin’ to hang their heads about; they battled to the very end, and, like I said, that was just a great high school game.”
Voytik related regarding the rivalry with the Eagles’ fast-breaking offense, “We expected it, especially from last year. I mean, that’s how they won last year (43-9 in the regular-season meeting at Forker Field) – they just ran it right down our throats in, like, five seconds. We just expected it. But this year we’re in better shape, got on the ball and we’re ready, and the offense ... we tried to wear ‘em down, that was our goal, to wear ‘em down so they couldn’t move as fast. You could say we did that a little bit.
“ ... We’re playin’ really well right now. The sky’s the limit for us,” Voytik concluded.
GROVE CITY 7 9 0 7 23
SHARON 0 8 15 7 30
GC — Nelson, 3 run (Hake kick)
GC — Hake, 32 field goal
GC — Reddick, 74 pass from Breese (kick failed)
S — Eilam, 6 pass from Voytik (Eilam pass from Voytik)
S — Jones, 35 pass from Voytik (Jones pass from Voytik)
S — Richardson, 6 pass from Voytik (Auchter kick)
GC — Nelson, 1 run (Hake kick)
S — Eilam, 35 pass from Voytik (Auchter kick)
GROVE CITY SHARON
17 First downs 18
143 Rushing yards 27
328 Passing yards 386
23-16-1 Att-comp-int 41-29-2
471 Total yards 413
3-1 Fumbles-lost 3-1
6-52 1/2 Penalties-yards lost 4-25
Rushing: GROVE CITY — Nelson 30-124, Breese 4-18, Hovis 7-11, Reddick 3-2, Team 2-(-12). SHARON — Ortiz 10-17, Richardson 5-13, Voytik 11-3, Smith-Austin 1-1, Team 1-0.
Passing: GROVE CITY — Breese 23-16-1, 328; SHARON — Voytik 40-29-1, 386; Jones 0-1-1.
Receiving: GROVE CITY — Reddick 6-175, Nelson 7-40, Muhammad 1-76, Martin 1-13, Rodgers 1-12; SHARON — Jones 10-155, Eilam 7-90, Smith-Austin 6-67, Phillips 5-71, Richardson 1-6.