Grove City outlasts Westminster
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After his team's homecoming game against Westminster at Robert E. Thorn Field, Grove City coach Chris Smith stood on the turf when an older man approached and grasped his hand.
“I'm getting too old for these cardiac games,” the man said.
Smith, in his 30th season at Grove City, nodded. He knows the feeling.
For the ninth time in 10 years, the contest between the Wolverines and Westminster was decided by seven points or fewer. Grove City (3-2, 1-2 Presidents' Athletic Conference) withstood a fourth-quarter rally by Westminster (1-3, 1-2) to win 24-21. The Wolverines, who have played the Titans 95 times, have won four of the past five meetings. The past 10 games have been split evenly.
“I looked up at the scoreboard, and I thought, ‘Son of a gun, that's the same score as last year,' ” said Smith, whose Wolverines won 23-21 in 2012.
Westminster trailed 24-7 after three quarters but stormed back with a spread offense run by quarterback Dak Britt, who finished with 276 passing yards and one touchdown.
Britt found Collin Wallace for a 76-yard touchdown that cut Westminster's deficit to three with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the game.
“We would've hoped that we would've made more plays like that all game, but I think (Britt) started to read his keys and get more confident,” Westminster coach Jeff Hand said.
On Westminster's next possession, the Titans drove to Grove City's 14-yard line. Britt found Dave Wright in the back of the end zone for what would've been the go-ahead touchdown, but a hands-to-the-face call negated the score.
“I didn't see the penalty, so I can't say anything about it, but yeah, those sting, especially when you take points off the board,” Hand said.
Britt moved the Titans back inside the red zone, but on fourth-and-5 at Grove City's 9-yard line, defensive end Ryan Hickey, a Franklin Regional grad, got a hand on Justin Dahl's field-goal attempt for a partial block with 41 seconds left.
After gaining 202 yards in the first half, Grove City managed just 113 in the second. But their biggest gain of the game came early in the third quarter.
One play after recovering a Westminster fumble, running back Zach Rader rolled to his right and threw a 26-yard TD to Khalil Ervin for what turned out to be the game-deciding points.
Quarterback Brian Pell led the passing attack the rest of the time and completed 19 of 34 attempts for 162 yards. He also scored on a 1-yard sneak just before halftime.
“Hats off to Westminster because they did a much better job of getting pressure in the second half, and that took away some of the easy throws that we were making in the first half,” Pell said.
Grove City entered with the conference's best third-down conversion rate (57.7) and appeared no less confident on fourth down, as the team went for it three times in the first half. All three times, the Wolverines earned the first down and continued what became scoring drives.
“It's been a great rivalry on both sides,” Hand said. “I mean, some people call it the ‘Presbyterian Bowl.' It's two schools that have mutual respect for one another but then go out and compete fiercely.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.
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