The Rockets football squad had their chances to fight back against Hickory High School but could not find the endzone and fell 48-14 last Friday night.
The Hickory Hornets set the tone in the trenches early and it carried throughout the game.
It was clear the Hornets wanted the game to flow through their offensive line, and they were able to control the ground. In fact, even some of their passes were essentially runs as they worked in multiple pop passes, tossed by the quarterback just a few feet forward, similar to a jet sweep handoff.
“They just beat us up front, we didn’t do a good job of putting our kids in a position to be successful,” Slippery Rock head coach Larry Wendereusz said.
Not only that, they worked in different offensive looks and managed to get the ball to 11 different rushers, far more than the norm.
It did not take long for them to reap the benefits. Hickory found the end zone twice on the ground in the first quarter. Runningback Sean Kennedy and quarterback Zander Telesz accounted for the scores.
Telesz was off to a good start passing, but Slippery Rock was able to limit the Hornets air game. After starting out with three completions on five attempts, his next seven passes would fall incomplete.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, their opponent’s ground and pound continued. It led to two field goals made by Lukas Jones and another ground score this time from Keenan Scullin. By the time there were 10 minutes left in the half, Hickory was up 27-0.
Just as it seemed the Rockets were totally out of it, Wendereusz placed faith in one of his biggest playmakers, Eli Anderson.
Despite an inefficient start to the game running the ball, Wendereusz called on his quarterback on a fourth down on their own 30-yard line. Anderson, a track star, delivered to the tune of a 70-yard touchdown rush, outrunning multiple Hornet defenders in the process.
A highlight reel play no doubt, but it came a little too late, a theme Wendereusz has noticed and wants to end.
“It’s good to see that, we’ve just gotta do a better job of giving him a chance to do that earlier on,” Wendereusz said. “That’s two weeks in a row he’s done it later in a game or later in the half. We need to do that earlier in the game and in a better situation.”
Anderson finished with the highest rushing total for SRHS and their lone offensive score. Dominick Zandi, Owen Long and Cooper Alleman also contributed to the rushing attack totaling 131 yards.
The Hickory defensive line hunkered down though and contained explosive plays for the most part from there on out, and the offensive line followed suit to stretch their lead.
Nearing the end of the half, William Acrie rushed in for six, and Jones added the extra point to make it 34-7 Hickory at half.
The second half proceeded as much of the first did. Although The Rockets defense held up for a while to start the third quarter, with just under three minutes left, The Hornets put together a final damning sequence.
Kelvin Morrison scored on a 60-yard rush, the defense recovered a fumble in SRHS territory and Luke Nevil weaved his way into the endzone on a pop pass in less than a minute of game time to open up a 48-7 lead.
Morrison would end up leading Hickory in rushing with 142 yards and the touchdown.
This also brings the Hickory total to five different players with a rushing touchdown.
There was some redemption left for The Rockets though. Hickory put in their backup quarterback to finish out the game, and SRHS capitalized as Cole Pearson jumped in front of a pass and returned it 89 yards for a pick-six. Zach Lasko made the extra point to solidify the final score at 48-14 Hickory.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that are playing and when you see a young kid like Cole jump in front of the pass and take it for a run you always get excited for the kid. He can tell that story for the rest of his life,” Wendereusz said. “You always want kids to experience that.”
In a game where a lot of things did not go right for a team, it is important to notice the good and highlight it so success can be extrapolated in the future.
“It’s exciting for him (and) it’s exciting for us to see that we’ve got a kid that’s listening to what we’re saying and doing what we’re asking. That’s what we’re looking for,” Wendereusz said.
SRHS is four games into their conference schedule, so there is still some time to right the ship despite a 1-3 conference record.
“We’ve got three left, and you’ve gotta stay positive. Again, at the end of the day, wins and losses happen. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to get a lot of wins,” Wendereusz said.
Wendereusz acknowledges the struggles of his young team, along with noting they are developing to put a better product on the field and will continue to do so, but nothing on the field is ever going to stop him from coaching them to be the best young men they can be.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to be better in the community, better in the classroom and better on the field. If we’re not better on the field, we darn well better be better in the community and better in the classroom. We’ve got to continue to preach that,” Wendereusz said.
Tonight, SRHS will head to Sharon High School for a 7 p.m. conference matchup.