The Grove City College football team retained the prestigious Mercer County Cup Saturday afternoon by pulling out a 50-44 overtime win at Presidents' Athletic Conference rival Thiel at Alumni Stadium.
Senior quarterback Brian Pell (Streamwood, Ill./Wheaton Academy) gave Grove City (5-5 overall, 3-5 PAC) the win by scoring on a 13-yard option keeper over left end in overtime. Thiel had the first possession in overtime but senior free safety Joe Diani (West Leechburg, Pa./Leechburg) intercepted a pass to end Thiel's drive.
Grove City trailed 37-30 midway through the fourth quarter but tied the game with 8:04 left in regulation when senior wide receiver Khalil Ervin (Malvern, Pa./Phoenixville) hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from freshman wingback Zach Gazdacko (Uniontown, Ohio/Lake) on a halfback option.
The Wolverines then surged ahead 44-37 with 3:17 left when senior wide receiver Anthony Ritchie (Big Rock, Ill./Wheaton Academy) raced 22 yards to the end zone on a reverse.
Ritchie also caught two touchdown passes and threw a touchdown pass in the win. His 16-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Pat Donoughe (Summerhill, Pa./Forest Hills) on the first play of the second quarter gave Grove City a 14-7 lead.
Grove City pushed its lead to 21-7 just 49 seconds later when Pell threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Ritchie on an out-and-up route. The Wolverines took over at the Thiel 42 after senior linebacker Ben Manwaring (Lisle, N.Y./Whitney Point) recovered a fumble.
Thiel quickly answered as Andrew Smith threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Matt Fedzen with 12:37 left in the first half.
Grove City reclaimed a 27-14 lead on its next possession by driving to the Thiel 22. On fourth down, the Wolverines lined up in the "Swinging Gate" and after receiving the snap, Pell threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ritchie.
Thiel whittled the lead to 27-24 by halftime but Grove City opened the second half with a 14-play, 69-yard drive. The drive stalled at the 6, though, and freshman kicker Ryan Stewart (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) booted a 24-yard field goal.
Thiel (3-7, 3-5 PAC) took a 7-0 lead with 11:52 left in the first quarter on Smith's one-yard run. Grove City answered six plays later when sophomore tailback Steve Maskrey (Cranesville, Pa./Northwestern) bulled in from the 5.
Thiel sent the game to overtime when Smith threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Bill Frizzi with 29 seconds left in regulation.
Grove City finished the game with 26 first downs and 439 yards of offense. Maskrey ran for 117 yards and a touchdown while Pell added 54 yards. Pell completed 13 of 23 passes for 192 yards.
Ritchie had six catches for 117 yards while Ervin pulled in six balls for 91 yards.
Manwaring and freshman safety Dale Klobuchir (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks) both had 12 tackles. Junior defensive tackle Robert Rollick (Woodland, Pa./Saint Marys) recorded a sack.
Smith completed 19 of 24 passes for 299 yards. Tim Walker caught six passes for 80 yards. Josh Potter ran for 107 yards on 22 carries while Smith had 94 yards and three touchdowns. Thiel finished with 530 yards of offense.
Grove City improved to 21-9 in the 30-year history of the Mercer County Cup. The Wolverines have won seven straight in the series. It is the first overtime game in the Cup series since 2009, when Grove City won 31-24 at Thiel in double overtime. Grove City is 6-3 all-time in overtime while Thiel is 7-2. Both Thiel overtime losses have been in the Mercer County Cup series.
Saturday marked the 100th meeting between the programs. Grove City leads the series 61-34-5. The 94 combined points are the most ever in a Grove City-Thiel game. It's the first time Grove City scored 50 or more points on the road since a 63-6 win at Bethany in 2004.
Grove City will lose 15 seniors to graduation: linebacker Ethan Albinger (Gibsonia, Pa./Deer Lakes), defensive end Ryan Althausen (Hudson, Ohio/Hudson), Diani, Donoughe, Ervin, safety Chris Gibbs (Akron, Ohio/Revere), center Ben Jubell (Aurora, Ohio/Aurora), tight end Josh Latini (Glenshaw, Pa./Shaler), Manwaring, offensive tackle Ethan Martin (Hancock, Md./Hancock), linebacker Brandon Miller (Corry, Pa./Corry), wide receiver Mitch Narbe (Orchard Park, N.Y./Christian Central), Pell, Ritchie and linebacker Mitch White (Clinton, Ohio/Norton).