By Pete Chiodo
SLIPPERY ROCK —
It was another week, another tough opponent, and a similarly disappointing script faced by the Meadville football team on Friday night.
For the second game in a row, the Bulldogs hung with their adversaries in the first half only to see them pull away in the second. This time it was against defending Region 5 champion Slippery Rock, which downed the ’Dogs 49-16.
Like last week’s game, which saw Meadville trailing Northwestern 14-7 at halftime before the Wildcats score 17 unanswered points for a 31-7 win; last night’s contest was still a game at halftime with Slippery Rock leading by just two touchdowns.
“The first half, I thought we took them out of their option game,” said Meadville head coach Mike Feleppa. “I thought we defended the option well. They hurt us with their jet sweeps and rocket sweeps a little bit. And that’s kind of where we adjusted in the second half. We started defending the sweeps a little better at the end of the first half.”
After halftime, however, Slippery Rock decided to go back to its break-and-butter option attack.
“I’m lucky to have coaches around me that sometimes settle me down when we’re struggling in the first half,” said Slippery Rock coach Brendan Hathaway. “‘Hey, just run your stuff. Set the option up.’ Two yards is a good play because it sets up the next. We really made a commitment to come out and, ‘Hey, don’t try to hit the big play, run your stuff.’ And the kids did that.”
The Rockets then proceeded to put the game away, scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter.
After a couple short-yardage set-up plays, the Rockets’ Frank Conlon broke off a 31-yard touchdown carry up the middle to finish off Slippery Rock’s first drive of the half.
Meadville went three-and-out on its possession. And a few plays later, Slippery Rock was back in the end zone when quarterback Jake Whitmer took a 10-yard keeper into the end zone, making it 28-0. It was Whitmer’s second TD of the night. He scored on a 17-yarder in the first quarter, capping a 14-play, 80-yard drive that made it a 14-0 game.
After Whitmer’s second score, Meadville fumbled the ball away two plays into its next possession. Then on Slippery Rock’s first down, Brandon McKnight went 27 yards into the house, getting the running clock rolling at 35-0.
Then on the third play of Meadville’s next drive, the Rock’s Brady Kadlubec picked off a Tanner Frye pass and returned it 24 yards into the end zone, giving his team an insurmountable 42-0 lead.
MASH finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth. Ryan Harkness broke off a 43-yard run into Slippery Rock territory. Nathan Martin added a 15-yarder to get the Bulldogs down to the 2. And two plays later, Caleb Schweter scored from one yard out. Schweter later completed a pass to Harkness for the 2-point conversion.
The Rockets answered right back, however. McKnight took off on a 56-yard touchdown trot, giving him a team-high 83 yards and two touchdowns on a total of two carries for the game.
Meadville’s JVs were able to score once more before the clock wound down when Joe Coffee took his first carry of the night 30 yards into the end zone, putting the final points on the board. Afterwards, he toted in the 2-pointer.
Harkness ended up leading Meadville with 97 yards on 19 carries. Antonio Ferraro followed with 42 yards on four rushes with the JV squad. Meadville had 217 yards total, all rushing, compared to the 372 rush yards by Slippery Rock, which employed a dozen running backs last night.
Following McKnight, Conlon had 80 yards on nine carries. Whitmer finished with 60 yards on seven carries. And Travis Lauster had nine carries for 37 yards, including a five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that was set up when the Rockets recovered a pooched kickoff to start the game.
Slippery Rock improves to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in Region 5 with the win.
Meadville drops to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the region. The Bulldogs will host East on Friday.
“We’ve got to keep going, got to get better, that’s all you can do,” said Feleppa. “There’s still a game next week, so we’ve got to prepare and get better.”