Grove City Wolverines Retain Mercer County Cup with 20-14 Win over Thiel
Written by: William Albright on Saturday, November 15th, 2008
By BILL ALBRIGHT
Western PA Writer
GROVE CITY — When the college football schedules are released in the pre-season, Thiel and Grove City circle the date when they meet each other during the regular season.
As for the importance of the game to both programs, the reason is simple. It is called playing for the Mercer County Cup.
Saturday afternoon at rainy Robert E. Thorn Field, Grove City retained possession of the cup for another year as the Wolverines downed the Tomcats, 20-14, in the season finale for both teams.
Following the game, both head coaches — Chris Smith of Grove City and Jack Leipheimer of Thiel — agreed that playing the game as the season finale made a lot of sense.
“Having this as the last game adds a lot to it,” said Smith. “If it were the fifth or sixth game of the season, you are still in a mindset of what are we going to do next week. This situation puts all the cards on the table and in most cases there is nothing left for Monday except turning in the gear so it does make a difference in the game.”
“I love it. I just love it,” said Leipheimer about the rival game at the end of the schedule. “When you have something like the Mercer County Cup to play for, regardless of what the team’s records are, the game is always going to be a battle and the teams are going to come ready to play. That is what you look for in a game like this one.”
The Tomcats (2-8, 1-5) stunned the Wolverines (6-4, 3-3) on the first play of the game as Thiel quarterback Willie Bova went up top and found Brendan Taylor for a 52-yard completion, setting up a 3-yard TD run by Brice Mertiff.
“When you are 2-7 going into the game, you gotta do whatever it takes to win,” said Leipheimer about the big play. “We played to win, we didn’t play not to lose so we just went out and attacked.”
Not to be unsettled by the quick Thiel score, the Wolverines came back on their next two possessions in vintage Chris Smith football as they took 16 plays to cover 60 yards for the first score before using a dozen plays to go 97 yards to make it 14-7 GCC.
Although most of the game was played close to the vest by Grove City, Smith used a little bit of trickery for his team’s first score.
Quarterback Andrew DiDonato took the snap and pitched the ball to Stephen Mercer who rolled to his right. While Mercer was rolling right, DiDonato took off for the left corner of the end zone and Mercer rainbowed a pass to quarterback-turned-receiver DiDonato for the score.
“That is not an unusual call for us, but it wasn’t supposed to be thrown to Andrew,” explained Smith. “It was supposed to go to the tight end, but he was covered. In practice, Andrew is always yelling, ‘I’m open, I’m open’, so Steve knew he would be back there somewhere. He unloaded it to the back corner of the end zone and low-and-behold, that was a welcome touchdown at that point of the game.”
After Brian Mercer scored on a 19-yard aerial from DiDonato, the Wolverines turned a gamble by the Tomcats into three points with time running out in the first half.
With all three timeouts left and GCC deep in their own territory, Leipheimer decided to use two of the timeouts setting up a third-and-long.
However, that is when DiDonato crossed up the Thiel defense by lofting a 40-yard pass to Stephen Mercer that ultimately led to a Craig Bicehouse 42-yard field on the final play of the half to increase the Grove City lead to 17-7 at halftime.
“I would play it like that again in a heartbeat,” said Leipheimer. “We had good double coverage on the kid and if we knock the ball down, we are in good shape. But instead, he (Stephen Mercer) went up and made an outstanding catch and my hat is off to him.”
That wasn’t the only big catch Mercer made during the day as he caught 14 passes for 171 yards and one score. As for DiDonato, he finished with 278 yards passing and 32 yards rushing.
“Tough kid. Very tough kid,” said Smith about Mercer who bounced back from injuries twice during the game. “He might be the best combination of student-athlete I have ever coached. He is really just a first-class kid. He kept running that curl pattern, got us some big first downs and eventually we got the field goal out of it.”
After watching his kicker misfire on his second field goal attempt of the game, Smith displayed his faith in his placekicker and Bicehouse delivered with a 29-yard field goal.
“I give him a lot of credit for making that last one,” said Smith. “It would have been easy for his earlier miss to haunt him, but he kicked it well and that was a big three points for us.”
Following Bicehouse’s second field goal with 1:35 left in the game to give the Wolverines a 6-point lead, Thiel came back and marched down the field to the GCC 17. However, with no more timeouts left and time running out, the snap on a spike attempt by Bova was mishandled and time ran out on the Tomcat’s season.
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