Tied for the conference lead in passing yards and leading the PSAC in touchdown passes, senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale paved the way for a 58-38 win over Shippensburg University last Saturday.
Barksdale threw for 304 yards against Shippensburg, which gave him the school record for most passing yards in back-to-back games with 769. Barksdale threw for 465 yards in the season-opener against Northwood University.
Head coach George Mihalik said that Barksdale is getting stronger every day and becoming a good leader for the team.
“He’s just getting better with every practice and every game,” Mihalik said. “He’s gaining more confidence in himself and the players have confidence in him.”
Barksdale is tied with Gannon University’s Liam Nadler for the conference lead in passing yards (769). The two will compete this Saturday in SRU’s first PSAC-West game.
Barksdale connected with senior wide receiver John Schademan five times for 109 total yards and two touchdowns. The last receiver to have back-to-back games of 100 or more pass receiving yards was Devin Goda in 2011.
Schademan feels that the work that the wide receiving core puts in at practice is translating into their success at games.
“Nigel and I work together a lot and put in a lot of extra work,” Schademan said. “This being our second year together helps our chemistry that much more.”
Senior wide receiver Ken Amos caught two passes for 76 total yards, highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown pass in the first half. Barksdale also found junior tight end Julian Harrell for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
SRU’s running backs also brought in three touchdowns to help secure the win.
Redshirt freshman Shamar Greene took off for a 61-yard touchdown on the second play of the game. Greene had 15 carries for a total of 118 yards.
Redshirt sophomore Brett Crenshaw brought in two touchdowns and totaled 28 yards.
The offensive effort set a new school-record of 109 points in their first two games (107 points in 2012).
Mihalik said that the reduction of turnovers in this game helped the offense to stay focused and perform at a high level.
“When you eliminate turnovers you give your offense the opportunity to put up points every series,” Mihalik said.
Slippery Rock lost one fumble to Shippensburg in the second half of the game. Shippensburg took the momentum after the turnover and went on to score 21 points to cut the Green and White’s lead to 13 points (44-31).
“That just shows the impact a turnover can have in a game,” Mihalik said. “It really swung the momentum to Shippensburg’s side.”
The Rock also picked up points thanks to a blocked punt by sophomore defensive back Calvin Anderson. Anderson’s block was picked up by junior linebacker Levi Sager to record a 5-yard touchdown.
Shippensburg quarterback Zach Zulli, 2012’s NCAA Division II national Player of the Year, was sacked four times for a loss of 45 yards.
SRU’s defense held the Red Raiders to 10 points in the first half. After Shippensburg took the momentum, the Green and White regained control of the game in the third quarter when they forced Shippensburg to go three-and-out.
“Our defense regained control,” Mihalik said. ““Every defense wants to shut the opponent out but if you give up a touchdown you can’t let that affect you negatively.”
Redshirt senior defensive back Anthony Saunders led the defensive effort with nine solo tackles. Redshirt senior linebacker Quindell Dean had six solo tackles, senior linebacker Gary Allen and senior defensive back Admire Carter both earned five.
As the final moments of the game passed, the team began to hold up the number 4 in honor of former teammate Zach Sheridan.
Schademan explained the significance of the gesture as a way for the players to pay their respects and keep Sheridan’s memory alive.
“Losing Sheridan was tough,” Schademan said. “It’s pushed the team harder because we want to get these wins for him. He was such a big part of this program and we know he’s up there watching over us.”
Mihalik said that it was important for the team to get the win, not only for themselves, but to show the Sheridan family how much their son meant to the team.
“The Sheridan family had lost enough already,” Mihalik said. “The team was determined to win the game for them and Zach and to present them with a winning game ball.”
Before the opening kickoff, Mihalik gave the Sheridan family their son’s jersey and issued a moment of silence. Friends and family of Sheridan embraced each other as they paid tribute to the former SRU standout.
“It was a very emotional moment,” Mihalik said. “Zach was the first player to wear that jersey and I felt it was appropriate that they have it.”
Mihalik said that another number 4 jersey is being ordered so that the team can continue to the pregame ritual of carrying out the jersey before the game.
SRU’s win over Shippensburg improves their season-record to 2-0. Slippery Rock will open up PSAC-West play tomorrow on the road against Gannon University at 12 p.m.