Andy Loucks and Thomas Merkle couldn't help but share a few laughs near midfield Friday night.
The former had just picked up his first victory as York Suburban's head coach — a 29-22 win over Spring Grove in the Trojans' home opener. The latter had a lot to do with that, having thrown for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
After starting the season 0-2 they deserved this moment, and their smiles reflected a sense of relief that the first win was out of the way.
"I feel great for the kids," Loucks said. "We had two really tough games the first two weeks, and to break through against a really good team tonight feels great right now."
Spring Grove (1-2) nearly spoiled the Trojans' night late in the fourth quarter. With just under four minutes left, Ryan Daugherty intercepted Merkle and took it back 72 yards for a score, cutting the lead to 29-22. Except the Rockets were called for a penalty on the return, then the Spring Grove bench was penalized 15 more yards for arguing the call.
"I couldn't believe it," Loucks said of his reaction when the Rockets ran back an interception. "I just said, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"
The Rockets would still score moments later on a Nick Erickson 6-yard touchdown catch, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by York Suburban's Brad Smith, sealing a win for the home team.
It was fitting that Smith was the one to put the final touches on the evening. The senior, who came into the game with 48 receiving yards this season, hauled in eight catches for 105 yards and two nearly-identical touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters.
"We've got receivers across the board," Merkle said of his connection with Smith. "They were double-teaming Collin (Mailman) all night, so Brad really stepped up for us and had a huge game. I look for that to keep going. He's capable of that every single week."
In front of their home crowd for the first time this season, the Trojans (1-2) gave the fans reason to cheer early on. Less than three minutes into the game, York Suburban capitalized on an early Rockets turnover when Mailman hauled in a high-arching pass from Merkle in the back corner of the end zone. The Rockets answered later in the first quarter with their first rushing touchdown of the season when L.J. Chisholm punched it in from 1-yard out, but Andrew Luckenbaugh's extra-point attempt clanked off the upright.
The Trojans' passing attack struck again midway through the second. On third-and-long, Merkle found Smith near the far sideline and the senior broke a tackle on his way to the end zone.
Then, on the first play of the ensuing drive, Rockets senior Nick Erickson — who ran for 138 yards in the first half — scampered right up the middle untouched for 85 yards. Spring Grove's two-point conversion failed, but a 33-yard Luckenbaugh field goal as time expired gave the Rockets a 15-14 heading into the locker room.
Teague Hoffman gave the Trojans' back the lead and capped off a six-minute drive with a 1-yard plunge midway through the third.
"It's a big win because Spring Grove is a great team," Merkle said. "We clicked on both sides of the ball, and we came out of the half really strong."
Before the dramatic ending, Merkle and Smith connected again in the same spot as their second quarter touchdown and again Smith broke a tackle to score.
"We played hard for four quarters and we never took a step back," Loucks said. "We kept fighting and fighting, and you win games when you do that."
Spring Grove6907—22York Suburban7787—29
YS — Collin Mailman 32 pass from Thomas Merkle (Jonas Atkinson kick), 9:32.
SG — L.J. Chisholm 1 run (kick missed), 4:38.
YS — Brad Smith 14 pass from Merkle (Atkinson kick), 4:57.
SG — Nick Erickson 85 run (run failed), 4:35.
SG — Andrew Luckenbaugh 33 field goal, :01.
YS — Teague Hoffman 1 run (Smith pass from Merkle), 5:55.
YS — Smith 16 pass from Merkle (Atkinson kick), 11:40.
SG — Erickson 6 pass from Jake Messersmith (Luckenbaugh kick), :33.
SGYSFirst downs1511Rushes-yards29-16621-102Passing17-2918-28-1Passing yards181191Total yards347293Punts2-374-26Fumbles-lost4-10-0Penalties-yards8-955-53
Rushing — SG, Nick Erickson 21-144, L.J. Chisholm 4-8, Jake Messersmith 4-14. YS, Dajour Henderson 2-9, Teague Hoffman 5-30, Travis Edwards 2-1, Jadon Haynes 8-24, Merkle 4-38.
Passing — SG, Messersmith 17-29-0-181. YS, Merkle 18-28-1-191.
Receiving — SG, Chisholm 3-27, Erickson 5-34, Adam Warehime 2-44, Anthony Beddia 1-3, Brady Stein 3-57, Connor Reed 3-16, YS, Collin Mailman 4-60, Brad Smith 8-105, Colin Deardorf 3-17, Hoffman 3-9.