SLIPPERY ROCK — The motto that is often used by a team when one of its player goes out with an injury is: “Next man up.”
For the Conneaut Area football team, the motto is more like: “Next half-a-team up.”
Mingling among the suited-up players on CASH’s sideline during Friday night’s big Region 5 game against Slippery Rock were a half-dozen players in street clothes sporting a whole collection of medical equipment — slings, boots, crutches, etc.
“Yeah,” said Eagles head coach Pat Gould, “we are a M.A.S.H. unit, definitely.”
Slippery Rock made sure that the holes in Conneaut’s lineup would be felt, as the Rockets rolled through the banged-up Eagles for a 48-14 victory.
“We didn’t know they were out that many guys,” said Slippery Rock head coach Larry Wendereusz. “We knew that No. 1, Tanner (Neimann) was out. We knew that No. 20 (Noah Richardson) was beat up, but we weren’t sure there. But then seeing some of the guys they had out, that’s tough. Being a coach in that situation, that’s tough.
“But give those kids credit. They still fought. It’s not like they rolled over and said, ‘We’re not going to play.’ They fought and played hard the entire game. And that’s a credit to coach and those kids.”
CASH might get the credit for playing tough even without some of its key players. But it will be Slippery Rock getting the credit for a crucial region victory. The Rockets improve to 4-3 on the season and 1-2 in Region 5.
“We still had to come out and do our job,” said Wendereusz. “And our kids did the job well tonight. I thought they made an impressive statement. But we’ve still got work to do. We’ve got Hickory next week, so we’ve got to get right back after it and be ready to go.”
Conneaut, losing its second straight, drops to 4-3 on the season, 1-2 in the region.
Coaches, when they’re missing a key player and they lose a game, are always careful about using that as an excuse.
But with so many new players in Conneaut’s lineup last night, it would have been disingenuous of coach Gould to not talk about it.
“This is different,” he said. “This is big. We’re asking a lot out of our kids to be where we want them to be right now. It’s very difficult. And it’s unfortunate that we have to put so much pressure on them. But, it is what it is. We don’t have much choice.”
Among the Eagles’ walking wounded was quarterback Tanner Niemann, out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that was incurred last Friday. And sort of on that list was slot back Noah Richardson, who dressed and punted for CASH last night, but didn’t play any offense or defense as Gould wanted to be careful with Richardson’s banged-up knee.
With those two out, there went a good 70 to 80 percent of CASH’s offensive production up to this point of the season.
So, Conneaut went with junior back-up Nathan Bortnick at QB. And they still had tailback Devin Neal relatively healthy.
Those two had some moments last night. Neal ran for 120 yards on 19 carries, and ran in a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter that cut Slippery Rock’s lead to 28-8. And Bortnick ran for 106 yards on 16 carries, and scored on a 12-yard run to put the final points on the board in the fourth.
However, CASH’s offense depends so much on timing and reads and nuances, things that guys like Niemann and Richardson had been able to establish during the first half of the season.
Last night, those things weren’t there for the CASH offense, as several drives ended after a few plays, either with a punt or a turnover on downs.
“We really had a difficult time maintaining offense,” said Gould. “Timing was off. There were some reads that we missed, which I expected with (Bortnick) not having as much time in the offense as our other quarterbacks have had.”
The very opposite could be said for Slippery Rock’s offense, which put together seven impressive scoring drives on the night and amassed 543 yards as a unit.
Nathan Hyatt led the Rockets with 179 yards on 19 carries, and scored a trio of touchdowns on runs of 3, 1 and 24 yards. David Duffalo followed with 13 carries on 120 yards and scored on two long runs of 27 and 58 yards.
Another touchdown was thrown by quarterback Vito Pilosi, a 52-yarder to Brendan Earl in the first quarter. Pilosi finished 6-for-11 for 89 yards passing and also carried the ball 13 times for 98 yards.
Shane Thompson added the Rockets’ final TD of the night on a five-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“We knew that those three (Hyatt, Duffalo and Pilosi) could have big games,” said Wendereusz. “But we knew that if our guys didn’t take care of them up front that it wasn’t going to matter. But tonight our guys did a nice job with that, of doing what they needed to do and winning the game up front. So, that was impressive.”
Meanwhile, Conneaut had the same experience gaps on the defensive side of the ball as it did on offense, missing guys like defensive tackle Zach Kehl, linebacker Max Lewandowski and safety Braden Groover, as well as Niemann (corner) and Richardson (at OLB).
“And that’s the thing,” said Gould. “We’ve got guys that hadn’t played (defense) before. And then they’re coming up against Slippery Rock and they’re doing some power read, some option. And it’s tough for these kids who play JV to step up and do this against a good team like Slippery Rock.”