HERMITAGE – Hickory High's football program dominated District 10 for much of the previous decade. Perhaps the Hornets started a new successful skein Saturday night.
Michael Henwood bracketed high-scoring Hickory's prolific performance with 53- and 50-yard scoring sprints as the Hornets harvested a 42-29 conquest of Grove City for the District 10 Class 3A crown.
At Hornet Stadium, Henwood, the standout signal-caller, also tossed 3- and 16-yard TD tosses to Rocco Iacino and Ramarion Whitehhead, and Iacino added a pair of short touchdown runs.
Henwood accounted for 294 total yards (130 rushing 164 passing), and he continues extending his Mercer County mark of being the only player to surpass 4,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing for his career.
The title was the first for Hickory's program since the last of its 6-year skein ended in 2016.
"Oh, man ... I'm gonna try to talk without gettin' emotional ... From the first time I walked in(to the team room) last February, and just to see the looks in their eyes. ... " related Hickory Head Coach Bill Dungee, his voice quivering while speaking of his seniors. "Comin' off a two-and-seven season, they were like, 'Whatever you want us to do, we'll do.
"I can't ask for any more from a group of seniors. They do whatever I ask them to do. They lead the younger guys," Dungee continued. "And I told 'em, 'You're leavin' a legacy.' To have seniors who are not only the most talented on the team, but they're the hardest workers, the first ones in the weight room ... Rocco Iacino, after practice Thursday night, he goes over and hits the (blocking) sled, by himself, with the lights off at the stadium.
"I mean, that's the type of kids I have, and I just get emotional talkin' about those guys ... " Dungee added.
As an assistant coach at his alma mater, Farrell, as well as Sharon High, Dungee was part of seven D-10 championship teams, and he related, "As a head coach you want one of 'em (championship), but most of all you want it for these young men who worked so hard and they do whatever you ask them to do, without question. So I'm so proud and happy."
Hickory (8-0) never trailed in sweeping an unusual 3-game season series against Grove City. In addition to the regular-season Region 3 rivalry (41-21, 28-7), Saturday's success avenged last season's 34-13 setback to the Eagles in the District 10 semifinals.
A 21-point 2nd period, culminating in a 12-play, 68-yard, 4-minute, 25-second drive and Henwood's 3-yard TD toss to Iacino, hoisted Hickory's halftime lead to 28-7.
Grove City (4-4) was making the program's 5th consecutive appearance in a District 10 title tilt. All that, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and the school district closing its doors for 3 days earlier in the week leading up to the championship game.
"There was a time there when even havin' a season looked pretty bleak," admitted mentor Sam Mowrey. " ... Once (his players) got the news we were going to have the opportunity to have a season, that was just a special moment, to see the joy that they had, to be able to have this opportunity to play football.
"So, would we trade it?" Mowrey rhetorically asked. "No way! So many memories we were able to make this year, and those'll last a lifetime."
To Mowrey's point the 'Grovers never gave up. According to ProfessorBriggs.com the Eagles ended running 81 plays from scrimmage, and Grove City out-gained Hickory, 428-401.
Senior signal-caller Logan Breese brokered a 19-for-30, 218-yard passing performance that included a 5-yard TD toss to Anthony Pereira for the game's final score – with approximately 22 ticks to play. Breese then ran for the 2-point PAT. All this, after missing a pair of late regular-season games owing to minor knee surgery.
Also, Curtis Hovis gave Grove City's ground game a game-high 31-carry 153-yard, 1-TD rushing performance. Hovis is a junior and Anthony Nemec, who also notched a TD run, is a sophomore. The 2020 Grove City squad included just 6 seniors.
Iacino's trio of TDs gave him a total of 8 against Grove City in the 3 games, for which an admiring and smiling Dungee could offer no rational explanation. Additionally, the Hornets stung the Eagles with a pair of pass interceptions from Dalton Beatty and Whitehead. Out of punt formation on a 2nd-stanza, 4th-and-9 play from his own 33-yard line Beatty broke out for an 11-yard gain on his 1st career carry.
"I saw it was wide open, so I was like, fourth down, gotta take it! Hey, I hope I get the ball again, we'll see what happens," a beaming Beatty said, later adding in regard to the D-10 title,
"The commitment for our seniors, it started two years ago before we even knew Coach Dungee. We were already in the weight room. Then this past summer, because of the corona(virus), we had to work in a garage to lift –– just the seniors, 'cause we couldn't fit anybody else. So the commitment, it's just a grind and you've gotta accept it, work through it.
Next week at a site and time to be announced, Hickory will meet Bedford – a 28-13 winner over Martinsburg-Central. Unlike the luxury of playing at home for a district championship for the first time in program history, Hickory will proceed into the PIAA playoffs with a road trip.
"It's a grind. We're gonna have to keep workin', play as a team," Beatty said. "As long as we're a team and we play together, I think we can win states."
Dungee cited his assistants – Ed Roberson, Brandon Chambers, Tim Jones, Frank Scarvel, Mike and Matt Scheider, Mike Bochert and Neil Gargano, as well as his wife Erica.
"As you get older, you realize that it's not about you," Dungee related. "I remember, bein' back at Farrell, and one of my players gave me one of my biggest compliments – 'Coach, exactly how you tell us it's gonna happen, that's how it happens in a game.' To hear that, and to have these guys respond is s-o-o-o gratifying.
"Just to see the looks on their faces and to understand, if you work hard you can accomplish anything," Dungee continued. "Your past doesn't matter. Just work hard as you can, keep your head down, control what you can control, and this'll be the outcome. So I'm so happy for 'em. All day long my stomach was in knots, just because I wanted it for them, I wanted it for them."
Note: Mowrey cited his seniors – Breese, Zack Martin, Jamie Amodei, Matthew Howard, Corey Medve and Max Myford. "A small senior class in numbers, but what a lot of heart is packed into those six kids. You get to see what they can do on the field and what great football players they are. But it pales in comparison to what type of kids they are. They, definitely, have left their imprint on the program and have done just a fantastic job. Part of our vision is to build men of integrity, and those six kids define that."
DISTRICT 10 CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP
GROVE CITY 0 7 6 16 29
HICKORY 7 21 7 7 42
H - Henwood, 53 run (Jones kick)
H - Iacino, 8 run (Jones kick)
H - Iacino, 4 run (Jones kick)
GC - Hovis 1 run (McCreadie kick)
H - Iacino, 3 pass from Henwood (Jones kick)
GC - Martin, 4 pass from Breese (kick blocked)
H - Whitehead, 16 pass from Henwood (Jones kick)
GC - Nemec, 4 run (Martin catch)
H - Henwood, 50 run (Jones kick)
GC - Pereira, 5 pass from Breese (Breese run)
GROVE CITY HICKORY
28 First downs 18
192 Rushing yards 237
236 Passing yards 164
31-20-2 Att-comp-int 28-15-0
428 Total yards 401
1-1 Fumbles-lost 0-0
2-4 Penalties-yards lost 5-55
Rushing: GROVE CITY - Hovis 31-153, Breese 12-28, Nemec 5-10, Pereira 2-1; HICKORY - Henwood 9-130, Wiesen 10-73, Iacino 4-23, Beatty 1-11, team 1-0.
Passing: GROVE CITY - Breese 30-19-2-218, Rodgers 1-1-0-18; HICKORY - Henwood 28-15-0-164.
Receiving: GROVE CITY - Hovis 4-81, Nemec 3-39, Pereira 3-39, Rodgers 5-28, Martin 3-24, Breese 1-18, McCreadie 1-7; HICKORY - Cannone 3-51, Whitehead 5-42, Pryts 3-34, Wiesen 1-32, Crockett 1-5, Iacino 2-0.