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Many residents from Roaring Spring, East Freedom and Martinsburg will flock to Grove City on Black Friday, but not for outlet shopping — but to support Central’s football team in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals against the Eagles.

The Scarlet Dragons will be forced to travel for the second year in a row – they played Grove City at Slippery Rock last year – as the Eagles sit at the top of the PIAA bracket, meaning they’re considered to be the “Hometown” Team and the PIAA continue a move from the COVID-era of allowing home teams to host state playoff quarterfinals. A possible semi-final match next week would be played at a neutral venue.

“It doesn’t matter unless people make it important to them.” said Central coach Dave Baker. “Obviously we’d rather play at Roaring Spring Athletic Field, but if we can’t do that, we go to them. It doesn’t bother us in the slightest. I don’t think it bothers the players.”

Last year it didn’t matter.

Central beat Grove City 35-6, the score by which the Scarlet Dragons have won their last two games (against Penn Cambria and Clearfield).

“They were a pretty good team and I think they’re better this year.” said baker. “It looks like it’s going to get a little warmer and it may or may not rain. I think they’ve improved and all their best players are coming back. It won’t be an easy game, I wouldn’t believe it.”

A year ago, Central had to run with the ball more than usual due to a snowstorm. It’s supposed to be warmer on Friday.

“I think the snow affected our passing game and made it difficult to overtake,” said Central senior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine. “We turned to the running game a little bit more that game and I think we did a good job running for the ball but I think we’ll be able to pass a little bit more this year if the conditions are better.”

Grove City coach Sam Mowrey said he doesn’t think the weather will play a big role as both teams are different and both teams need to play there.

“It’s a different group” said Mowrey. “We have a new group of children. They have seniors who have graduated, new freshmen in the program. It’s a different group of kids with different leadership styles. Our team did a great job tackling a tough schedule this year. They have been mentally and physically tested and played in some close matches and some stressful situations. They did a great job playing for each other and not letting circumstances affect them.”

If Central needs to run the ball, they will do so with a lot more confidence in their lineup than they had at the start of the season with the Dragons, who started the year 1-2.

“In the beginning we weren’t sure who our main players (on the line) would be,” said baker. “We finally settled on some players and have gotten a lot better. The offensive line blocked better. The defensive line got out of blocks and tackled better. Both lines have undoubtedly improved.”

Much of the improvement just came from college years and hard work.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since the beginning of the year,” Hoenstin said. “We had a couple of inexperienced guys who hadn’t played at varsity level and they’ve got some experience and come a long way now. We’ve improved tremendously and that will definitely help us in these states playoff games.”

Central has won 10 games in a row.

“They are an extremely talented team. Offensively they have guns all over the field.” said Mowrey. “They have receivers, running backs and obviously the quarterback is doing a great job getting the ball out and putting the ball in places where his boys can make catches. They’re just such an explosive team offensively and can make big plays when it seems like there’s nothing there.”

In addition to the talent, Central also has the experience — not just in football, but in the baseball and basketball playoffs.

“Without a doubt. They have a sense of willingness, a sense of knowing they’ve done this before, and they’re not nervous.” said baker. “It’s more of a feeling that we’re doing just that. They have done it before and hope to do it again.”

Grove City quarterback Hunter Hohman has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdown passes this season, but has also thrown 12 interceptions — something Mowrey said the team is focused on avoiding.

“To be successful, we have to play offensively and control the football.” said Mowrey. “Our key to success, much like any other high school football team, is ball control and making sure we’re not giving short fields or extra possession, and on defense we need to create some turnovers and get some extra possessions and play – Change plays in special teams.”

If the game comes down to one last game, Grove City has had many close games this season, but the Scarlet Dragons have been on the same path.

“I think the experience of having been in these pressure situations definitely helps,” Hoenstin said. “It’s a new experience for some people, but having people with experience on this team definitely helps, especially from a leadership perspective.”

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