The Slippery Rock football team climbed D2Football.com national rankings to No. 22 by shutting down Clarion University 34-13 at the “Legends of the Rock” Homecoming game Saturday afternoon.
The Green and White will add another win to the “Milk Jug” trophy and hold onto it until next season.
The tradition of the traveling “Jug” began four years ago to recognize the rivalry and respect between the two teams. Slippery Rock has yet to lose to Clarion since the tradition began.
In the past three games, the Slippery Rock defense has held to opposing offense to less than 16 points. Earlier in the season, their opponents have averaged 36.5 points.
Head coach George Mihalik said the dedication and effort put in by the seniors is impacting the defense.
“This is their last chance at winning the conference and making the national playoffs,” Mihalik said. “They’re going to lead by example and they’ve been doing that. The defense is playing better and better each week.”
Senior nose tackle Tony Papley led the defense with a career-high 14 tackles, followed by senior linebackers Gary Allen and Quindell Dean at 12 tackles.
Redshirt senior cornerback Anthony Saunders intercepted Clarion’s Darelle Carson in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, redshirt junior defensive end Kevin Kulka sacked Carson for a loss of four yards on a 4th and 1, forcing a turnover on downs.
Slippery Rock lost possession on the next play when Clarion’s Julian Howsare recorded his second interception of the game from senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale. Howsare’s first interception came earlier in the third quarter on a 3rd and 7 attempt.
“We put the defense in a tough position by turning the ball over twice,” Mihalik said.
Both turnovers put Clarion with possession of the ball in Slippery Rock territory. The Rock defense only allowed the Golden Eagles to capitalize on one of these scoring opportunities.
Clarion held a 40:26 to 19:34 time of possession advantage over SRU but struggled to find the end zone. Slippery Rock held the Golden Eagles to an average of 3.27 yards per play, while Barksdale and the offense averaged 7.05 yards per play.
Two Rock players received national recognition for their performance against Clarion.
Papley and redshirt freshman Shamar Greene were named USA College Football Division II honorable mention National Players of the Week.
This recognition marks the fifth consecutive week that a Slippery Rock football player was given a National Player of the Week honor.
Greene led the rushing effort for the offense with 131 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown.
Redshirt junior running back Teddy Blakeman added two rushing touchdowns. Blakeman had seven carries for 37 yards.
Barksdale connected with eight different receivers, completing 17 of 32 attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
Barksdale and redshirt senior John Schademan connected on four passes for 93 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass.
The performance pushes the duo closer to setting single-season records at Slippery Rock.
Barksdale, with 22 touchdowns, is one short of the mark set by Nate Crookshank in 2007 and, with 2,448 yards, is 105 yards away from matching Cody Endres’ 2011 total.
Schademan is tied for second place in single-season pass receiving touchdowns with 11. He’s one shy of the 1994 record set by Greg Hopkins. Schademan also is 79 yards shy of becoming the fifth SRU receiver to have 1,000 or more pass receiving yards.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Ken Amos connected on four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown pass.
The Slippery Rock offense totaled 506 yards while Clarion was held to 261 yards.
Rain fell the entire second half of the game, opening up more room for errors for both teams.
“The weather didn’t impact our performance as much as it may have seemed,” Mihalik said. “We just weren’t as sharp as we had been.”
The consistent rain caused the zero of redshirt senior Bob Westerlund, No. 40, to fall off the back of his jersey, leaving just the No. 4.
No. 4 was the number of former Slippery Rock player Zach Sheridan. The team honors Sheridan’s memory by carrying out his jersey before each game.
“Two years ago at Homecoming was the first time we wore those (black jerseys),” Mihalik said. “It seems ironic that it happened to that jersey. Anyone who noticed it during the game or on film immediately went to Zach Sheridan.”
The win placed SRU (6-1) in a three-way tie for the PSAC-West lead with California University of Pa. (5-2) and Gannon University (4-3). Each team has a 3-1 record in the conference.
“We have one loss in the conference and we can’t afford a second,” Mihalik said. “Two losses and you don’t win the conference.”
Slippery Rock heads to Edinboro University (4-3) tomorrow for a 12 p.m. PSAC match.