Notes from Spring Grove-Red Lion
We had a feeling before the season that YAIAA Division I was going to be wide open. But two weeks into division play, there might be even more parity among these six teams than we thought. Four of Division I's six teams sit with 1-1 league records through two games. Only unbeaten Dallastown has yet to lose a league game. That means five Division I teams can legitimately say they're in the hunt for a title. I had the opportunity to catch Spring Grove's somewhat surprising, 36-14 win at Red Lion last night. One week after getting trampled by Central York at home, the Rockets went into one of the league's toughest venues and played their best football of the season. Here are a few leftover notes from that game... Turnover troubles Giveaways had not been a problem for Red Lion this year. Before Friday, the Lions had committed just six turnovers all season, and led all Division I teams in turnover ratio. All the more surprising to see Red Lion give the ball away four times Friday night. The struggles were especially acute in the second half. The Lions had as many turnovers during the final two quarters (3) as they did first downs (3). Included among the miscues was a fumble by running back Mike Gray on the very first play of the second half. That set up Spring Grove's eventual go-ahead score, on a five-yard run by Josh Slate. Even Red Lion quarterback Tanner Klinefelter had some off moments. The junior came into the game leading the YAIAA in completion percentage, and had thrown just one interception on the season. He threw two on Friday. Truth be told, Spring Grove had some ball security issues, as well. The Rockets lost a pair of fumbles in the first to kill potential drives. The difference was, Spring Grove solved those issues in the second half. Odd play I didn't have space to discuss this sequence in my game story, but Spring Grove's second touchdown was set up by one of the weirder plays you'll ever see. On a third-and-3 from its own 41 in the second quarter, Spring Grove called a handoff to running back Josh Slate up the middle. Slate appeared to have the first down, but fumbled while fighting for yards. The loose ball popped right into the hands of Alec Piety, a senior offensive tackle, who then ran 47 yards all the way to the Lions' 8-yard line. It all happened so fast. Red Lion's defenders looked like they were stuck in mud as the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Piety raced past them right up the middle. The play eventually set up Slate's seconds of three touchdown runs, which gave Spring Grove a 14-7 lead. Gotta say, for an offensive lineman, Piety has some pretty decent wheels. Catch him if you can Red Lion's Branden Kessler continues to be one of the most prolific receivers in the YAIAA. The 6-foot-3 senior, who entered the night third in the league in receiving yards, hauled in six grabs for 108 yards and two touchdowns Friday. Kessler's biggest catch was a 62-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. On that play, Spring Grove's cornerback stumbled while the ball was in the air, leaving Kessler with an easy catch and run. Kessler also hauled in a nine-yard touchdown pass six seconds before halftime. That tied the game at 14. Through seven games, Kessler now has 29 catches for 533 yards and six touchdowns. Great grab Speaking of catches, Spring Grove tight end Cortlin Dell made one of the better ones you'll see on Friday. On the Rockets' first offensive play of the fourth quarter, Dell ran uncovered into the middle of the field on a seam pattern. It looked like an easy pitch and catch, but quarterback Neal Grudi's lofted pass was a bit long. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to catch it," said Dell, the 6-foot, 230-pound senior. Dell managed to stick his right hand out to tip the ball, secured it, and then ran 70 yards for the score. That was essentially the game's knockout blow, and made the score 29-14. Air it out It's hard for a quarterback to be more efficient than Grudi was in the second half Friday. The senior was 5-for-6 after halftime for 164 yards. This after a 1-for-5 throwing effort in the first half. A big chunk of those yards came on the pass to Dell, but Grudi also completed a 52-yard screen to Josh Slate and connected with Ben Reigart on a deep slant to convert a third-and-long. Klinefelter, Grudi's Red Lion counterpart, finished with decent numbers: 15-of-28 for 148 yards, two scores and two picks. But much like his team as a whole, Klinefelter went through a dry spell early in the second half. He misfired on his first seven pass attempts of the half, one of which went for an interception. Spring Grove's secondary also did a good job of not letting Red Lion's receivers get behind it. Red Lion had only one completion of more than 13 yards (the Kessler score), and only three completions of more than 10 yards.