It was Greyhound football's very own version of the mud bowl.
The No. 3 seeded Hounds (10-1, 5-1 Colonial) persevered over No. 14 seed Northeastern (5-6) in the heavy rain and mud Friday at Veterans Stadium, using an Adam Houser touchdown on their opening possession to advance to the District 3 class 5A quarterfinals, 6-0.
The slippery conditions made passing the ball nearly impossible, even a simple snap or a handoff made you hold your breath. The two teams combined for 12 fumbles, including nine by Northeastern. Many of which occurred on the doorstep of the Shippensburg endzone.
The Greyhounds handed the ball off to Houser early and often to the tune of 30 carries and 91 yards. Junior fullback Jacob Loy added 84 yards on 24 attempts.
“In conditions like this I definitely feel like we have the advantage,” Houser said after the game. “I know that both sides of the ball were feeling [the conditions], so we had to be tougher than them and meaner than them. And that's what we did. We were really aggressive.”
The rain had already arrived in time for the opening kickoff, but the Greyhounds were able to still get some traction on the Veterans Stadium turf during a 15-play opening drive that ate up 6:36 of the first quarter clock.
The opening possession came down to a 4th and 4 play on the Northeastern 32 yard line. Quarterback Zack Manning pitched the ball out to Houser, who plowed ahead 7 yards for a big Shippensburg first down.
The Hounds called on Houser again on 3rd and goal at the Bobcat 3-yard line. Houser was initially stopped at the 1, but the senior tailback absorbed the contact and fell forward, reaching across the goal line for a Greyhound touchdown.
The ensuing point after attempt clanged off the left upright, forcing Shippensburg to settle for a 6-0 lead.
Fumbles derailed the next four drives from both teams, but a fifth fumble opened up the door for Northeastern, as Bobcat offensive lineman Robert Almond recovered a Northeastern fumble and returned it into Shippensburg territory with just a minute remaining in the first half. The visitors were unable to take advantage before the final seconds ticked away in the first half, allowing Shippensburg to maintain a slight edge at the break.
Bobcat QB Zech Sanderson opened the second half with another big play, a 50-yard scramble down the left sideline that brought the visitors down to the Shippensburg 23-yard line, but another fumble short-circuited the drive just two plays later.
A third chance opportunity near the Shippensburg endzone resulted in Northeastern’s most costly turnover.
A steady dose of sophomore runner Manny Capo gave the Bobcats a 1st and goal on the opponent's 7-yard line. Capo got as far as the Shippensburg 2. On 3rd and goal, Capo was hit for a short 1-yard loss, setting up a critical fourth down.
Just three yards away from tying the score or taking the lead, Sanderson called his own number and rolled left. He was met by Shippensburg defenders at the goal line and Sanderson lost his grip on the football, fumbling it out of the back of the endzone for a touchback with 3-minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The sloppy play continued from both sides until late in the fourth quarter, but Shippensburg was able to finish strong.
Senior defensive lineman Kyler Danzberger fell on Northeastern's ninth fumble of the game to give the Greyhounds the ball with 7:06 remaining, and Shippensburg went on to have their best drive since their opening possession.
Houser kept the drive alive with a heads up play on 3rd down, scooping up a loose ball in the backfield and rushing forward to pick up first down yardage.
The Greyhounds advanced into Bobcat territory, forcing Northeastern to burn their final timeout ahead of a Shippensburg fourth down play with 2:33 remaining.
Needing four yards to move the chains, the Greyhounds handed the ball off to Houser, who carried Northeastern defenders 12-yards downfield to pick up a big first down. With the opposition unable to stop the clock, Shippensburg simply needed to hold onto the football for the final two minutes to seal the victory.
The rain certainly played into the Greyhound’s run-first style, while according to Northeastern head coach Jon Scepanski, the wet weather took away half of the Bobcat's offense.
“The conditions are what they are. You can say if this or if that, but it is what it is. It came down to who was going to make the least amount of mistakes. They had a good first drive on us and that is what made the difference.” Scepanski said. “It played into their favor tonight and we made too many mistakes.”
For the Hounds, may of which left the field covered in mud, Friday's wild win was something that they won't soon forget.
“We are just so united. The whole game we were telling each other 'just stick together, we call pull this out,' and we did. It's a great feeling,” Loy stated. “It got to the point where you would try to wipe your hands after being tackled, but everything else was muddy. There was really no wiping your hands, you just had to hold on for dear life and hope for the best.”
“It's one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to play in a football game like this and our guys loved it. It was an incredibly fun night and it even better coming out with a win,” said Houser.
Shippensburg head coach Eric Foust praised junior center Rook Smith for his snaps during the rough conditions, calling him the game's MVP.
“Really there was not a whole lot of strategy that went into this game, we just needed to gut it out,” the Shippensburg coach said afterward. “We get to play at least one more week. These kids really like each other and it's a special group. Just to keep playing is a lot of fun.”
Shippensburg will host No. 6 seed York High (10-1) in the District 3 5A quarterfinals Friday following York's 42-7 victory over No 11 seed Northern. Kickoff is from Veterans Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.