Spring Grove’s Matt Runge, who accounted for more than 2,000 yards of total offense, runs the football against South Western this season.
Spring Grove's Matt Runge, who accounted for more than 2,000 yards of total offense, runs the football against South Western this season. (THE EVENING SUN -- BRETT BERWAGER )

Spring Grove High football coach Russ Stoner uses a lesson his father taught him from a conversation years ago as a way to push the Rockets to continue their success after an 8-4 season that ended in the quarterfinals of the District 3 Class AAA playoffs.

Stoner had just won an all-area football award his junior year of high school, but his father reminded him that nothing is guaranteed.

"All right, Russ, that's fantastic," his father said. "What do you do now?"

"What do you mean?" Stoner said.

"You did it your junior year," his father said. "You better work your tail off and do it your senior year."

Stoner wants the Rockets -- largely comprised of juniors this season -- to realize this season was the first step toward larger goals. As the team left from last week's 42-17 loss to West York, he saw the scoreboard and felt bad for his players. But he also realized it was just a start.

"It wasn't a down day," Stoner said. "It was a day of looking at what we've done. We want to establish ourselves as a football program. We're in the infancy part of trying to turn a corner and create a football program. It's a good season, but there's a ton for us to learn yet."

The Rockets, runners-up in this year's SunPoll, have come far from a 1-9 season last year, and they progressed from a season-opening 40-0 loss to Susquehanna Township that dropped them to 1-10 under Stoner.

"They could've questioned if we were any good," Stoner said.

His team followed that loss with a second-half comeback against Susquehannock and a close loss to West York. The Rockets then won six of their last seven to win a share of the YAIAA Division I title for the first time in nearly a decade. They also beat Shippensburg 24-0 in their District 3 Class AAA first-round game.

The season ended a week later against West York, a team EasternPAFootball.com ranked fifth in the state.

"We had our chances," Stoner said. "I think they played their best game of the year. We probably played one of our worst games of the year. But I'm not going to make any excuses. They were the better team that night.

"We made too many mistakes. We can't turn the ball over three times. We couldn't drop touchdown passes. You can't kick a line-drive kickoff to their best player. We gave them opportunities to make plays. They made them. When we had opportunities to make plays, we didn't."

And so begins the Rockets' offseason training program, which they'll do with the field hockey team.

The Rockets lose quarterback Matt Runge, who passed for 1,481 yards and rushed for 810 more. They'll replace him with Seth Hildebrand, who started seven games his sophomore year, and Dalton Forbes, whom Stoner believes can be an excellent passing quarterback.

They return running back Jeff Delaughter, who leads the Hanover area in rushing with 1,554 yards and set a single-season school rushing record.

"He got stronger every single day," Stoner said. "By the fourth quarter against Shippensburg, you looked at him and you could tell he had a different gear. He was going to get more yards after contact. We're looking at him having a great year for us next year."

dpaulling@eveningsun.com; 717-637-3736, extension 139; Twitter: @DanielPaulling