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Undermanned Spring Grove prepared for big test

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Last year's Week 7 game against Central York left Spring Grove coach Kyle Sprenkle soaked, cold and thrilled.

Rockets players dumped a bucket of ice water on their first-year head coach after that victory, one that helped propel them into the district playoff race.

“That was the game where everyone really knew all the plays, we had depth at every position where a younger guy could step in," Spring Grove running back/linebacker Ryan Daugherty recalls. "We just really came together as a team.”

The Rockets entered that game in a do-or-die situation with a 3-3 record. If they wanted any hope of qualifying for the district playoffs they needed a victory.

They're back in a similar position again this season, sitting at 4-2 — with a 2-1 record in YAIAA Division I play — but not quite sure where they fit into the division title and district playoff picture. The four teams Spring Grove has defeated have a combined record of 0-24, while the two teams it lost to have a combined record of 9-3.

This time, Central York will come to Spring Grove for the Rockets' homecoming game, which will be livestreamed on Both teams are part of a four-team logjam of 2-1 Division I teams chasing first-place Red Lion.

“It’s a big game," Spring Grove quarterback Jake Messersmtih said. "The division right now is up for grabs, but I think from here on out the games are gonna get tougher and tougher. We have to be physically ready for who we go against.”

A lot has changed, though, since last year's meeting between these two teams.

Central York has replaced longtime coach Brad Livingston, installed an up-tempo offense and gotten off to a hot start that includes a dramatic 28-27 upset win at Northeastern.

Spring Grove's roster has shrunk down to just 32 players, making it the smallest squad in Division I. Many Rockets play on offense and defense, while most teams in the division have the luxury of resting players for half the game.

“We have to use everybody," Sprenkle said. "There’s not many guys that get to stand around; we’re constantly rotating guys in, and we depend on each other. Even if you’re a starter, sometimes you have to be a scout player on the other side of the ball in practice. It’s worked for us so far.”

The lack of depth hasn't come into play too much, as the team has remained mostly healthy. Sophomore Nick Shaqfeh filled in for Messersmith, who had an elbow injury, for much of the first month of the season, but Messersmith has been back for two weeks and and said he's fully healthy.

“We really depend on each other," Daugherty said. "Everyone has to perform every play as hard as they can go. If one guy slacks off, the whole unit isn’t going to succeed.”

The undermanned Rockets hope this game provides a turning point to the season the same way it did last year. If it does, maybe Sprenkle will receive the ice-water treatment once again.