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Grove City Outlasts Thiel for 31-24 Win in 2OT

Written by: on Sunday, November 15th, 2009

By Bill Albright

GREENVILLE — The Mercer County Cup will stay with Grove City College at least for another year.

After falling behind Thiel 17-0 and still trailing by that score after three quarters, the Wolverines rallied to tie the game at 17-all to send it to overtime before downing the Tomcats 31-24 in the season finale for both teams.

“They (Thiel) really played well early, plus we gave them the ball a couple of times,” said GCC head coach Chris Smith. “More than that, they took advantage of them. They had the momentum and when we got down close at the end of the first half, I obviously felt we should go for the touchdown, but we didn’t make it. That choice was definitely in the back of my mind when it was 17-17.”

Although disappointed with the loss, Thiel head coach Kurt Reiser saw a lot of good things on both sides of the ball in the battle for The Cup.

“It was just a great ball game by both sides,” said Thiel head coach Kurt Reiser. “Both teams gave good efforts and the kids on both teams played hard. To play in a rivalry game like this, all bets are off most of the time. If you ask people about it, I think that most people would say we were the underdog coming in, but our kids rose to the occasion, played hard, gave us a chance to win the game but we just couldn’t pull it off.”

The Tomcats owned the first half as they started the game with three turnovers, but could only put 10 points on the board as a result of the GCC miscues. The Thiel domination during the first 30 minutes was evident in time of possession as they held the ball for 20:16 to just 9:44 for the Wolverines, but the inability of his club to finish opportunities bothered Reiser.

“That (not finishing) was a big concern of mine because we weren’t able to finish offensively the way we needed to finish in the first half,” said Reiser. “When that happens, you get the feeling that they can come back on you quickly with the things that (GCC quarterback) Andrew DiDonato can do. You worry that those things can come back and bite you in the butt and that is what happened to us today.”

Two of the three turnovers were interceptions by Thiel linebacker Bobby Shew on situations that DiDonato admitted he never saw coming.

“Last year I think we completed 15 curls on them and both interceptions were on curl routes,” admitted DiDonato. “That is the route we killed them on last year, but they weren’t going to get beat by the same thing this time. They just jumped, cut underneath it and just straight up picked it. I should have read it better, but he (Shew) made a couple big plays.”

After Thiel quarterback Willie Bova engineered the Tomcats to their 17-0 lead, DiDonato did the same for the Wolverines down the stretch.

Leading his troops downfield with time running out and his team still trailing 17-14, DiDonato turned over the controls to GCC place-kicker Craig Bicehouse who drilled a 32-yard field goal with less than three minutes on the clock.

The Tomcats had one last ditch opportunity to win the game in regulation, but Thiel kicker Mike Danko missed wide right and the two teams head to the first extra period.

Thiel drew first blood in the first extra period when Bova hit Brendan Taylor with a 7-yard scoring toss, but the Wolverines answered right back when DiDonato used his legs to get the job done from 11 yards out.

In the second OT period, it was again DiDonato doing his thing and doing it well as he hit wideout Luke O’Hara with a 25-yard scoring pass, but this time, the Tomcats couldn’t answer the bell.

Driving to the GCC 4-yard line and faced with a fourth down, Wolverine safety Mark Rossol proved to be “Johnny on the Spot” as he batted down a Bova pass in the end zone to preserve the 31-24 GCC win.

“Our kids made the plays when they had to and Andrew DiDonato is as good a quarterback as I will ever work with,” said Smith. “It has been a real joy to work with him and what a way for him to end his career. His last two plays (of his career) he runs one in for a touchdown and threw for a touchdown. He is just a special person.”

As for DiDonato’s two final collegiate games, he was quick to admit that he couldn’t have scripted it better himself.

“All I kept saying to myself is that this is the last game I’ll ever play,” said the quarterback. “I wouldn’t want it any different. In overtime, I wanted the ball in my hands and this is the way I wanted to go out. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

As for his four outstanding years at Grove City, DiDonato admitted that it was the best choice he has made in his life.

“I made the best decision in the world and I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “The Lord has been very good and gracious to me to allow me to have my two most memorable games of my life in the last two I ever played. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Although the Wolverines didn’t win the PAC championship, Smith was happy with the way his players hung in and finished the season strong.

“Our kids didn’t give up and they didn’t go away,” praised Smith. “When you are down 17-0 after three (quarters), sometimes doubt enters (your mind). Fortunately, the Wolverines wouldn’t let that enter their minds. This win puts us third place in the conference and that wasn’t our goal, but in a 9-team conference, that (finish) is very respectable.”

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