Rock to face Vulcans for top spot
Sole possession of first place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division is at stake this Saturday afternoon. Slippery Rock football team (7-1, 4-1) and California University of Pa. (6-2, 4-1) are currently tied for the top spot.
Initial Division II super-region rankings were released on Monday. The top six teams in the final ranking, released Nov. 17, earn berths into the NCAA Division II National playoffs. SRU ranked fifth behind West Chester University, Shepherd University, Bloomsburg University and Winston-Salem State University. Cal was ranked eighth.
“This is the exact position we wanted to be in,” head coach George Mihalik said. “It’s a good rivalry. The fact that first place of the Western Division is on the line and regional rankings will be affected just adds to it. Everything is wrapped up in this one game.”
This past weekend, Slippery Rock defeated Edinboro University 44-20. The win broke SRU into the NCAA AFCA top 25-poll at No. 24 and they moved up to No. 20 on the D2Football.com poll.
The Rock offense posted 637 total yards against the Fighting Scots but turned the ball over three times.
Redshirt junior running back Teddy Blakeman ran for a career-high 145 yards and three touchdowns, earning him recognition as the PSAC Offensive Player of the Week.
Redshirt freshman running back Shamar Greene also added a touchdown for the Rock and totaled 92 yards on 16 carries.
Senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale threw for 342 yards and one touchdown. Barksdale also ran in a three-yard touchdown and totaled 37 rushing yards. The marks set a new single-season record for total passing yards at 2,790, passing the 2011 total of 2,551 yards set by Cody Endres, and tied Nate Crookshank’s 2007 passing touchdown record at 23.
Barksdale connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Ken Amos 11 times for a total of 104 yards.
Redshirt senior wide receiver John Schademan caught five passes for 91 yards. Schademan, with 1,012 receiving yards this season, is now the fourth Slippery Rock player in history to have 1,000 or more receiving yards in a single-season.
The only touchdown pass of the game came off a quick play from Barksdale to redshirt senior wide receiver Michael Bongivengo in the back of the endzone.
Bongivengo and the rest of the Rock seniors will be recognized for their time spent at SRU at Saturday’s Senior Night game.
“It’s always been good to be a part of this team,” Bongivengo said. “We’re a brotherhood. It’s one big family here. We know Cal’s a big game but it’s just another game. If we want to be successful, we have to continue to put the same amount of work in that we’ve been putting in since February.”
Greene fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter and Edinboro took over on the Rock’s five-yard line. Out of SRU’s five total turnovers, this was the only drive that Edinboro was able to capitalize on.
Barksdale threw two interceptions on back to back drives in the third quarter and redshirt senior defensive lineman Derek Walker and freshman defensive back Derrick Fulmer both fumbled during punt returns.
“You don’t ever want to turn the ball over,” Bongivengo said, “but you just have to keep playing. In football, you just live to play another play. We have to focus and keep the ball in our hands.”
Fulmer’s fumble occurred within the final minutes of the second quarter, giving Edinboro the ball on the Rock 21-yard line and a chance to tie the game. Edinboro took the ball to the 3-yard line but were unable to convert the drive into points and the score remained 14-7 at the half.
“I think our defense did a tremendous job keeping Edinboro off the board,” Mihalik said. “If they score there, they get momentum. We held them without a touchdown or a field goal. It was great momentum for us at a crucial point in the game.”
The defense held Edinboro to a three and out situation on Barksdale’s first interception. Redshirt junior Kevin Kulka forced a fumble that was recovered by junior defensive end Matt Peacock following Barksdale’s second interception.
Slippery Rock sacked Edinboro quarterback Jon Girvin three times. Walker and Kulka were each credited with a sack for a loss of nine yards and Peacock sacked Girvin for a loss of three yards.
Fulmore intercepted Girvin in the end zone on the fourth quarter to stop a potential scoring play.
Junior safety Austin Miele led the Rock defense in tackles with 10, followed by Walker at nine and senior linebacker Gary Allen at seven.
Cal knocked Gannon University out of the three-way tie for first place last weekend with a 35-7 win.
The Vulcans have been utilizing sophomores Cody Schroeder and James Harris at quarterback in most of their games this season.
Having two quarterbacks to prepare for will put more work on the defense, Mihalik said.
“We know that whoever plays can produce points,” Mihalik said. “The defense has to put in that extra prep time and be ready for two different quarterbacks.”
The rivalry game will take place at the Mihalik-Thompson Stadium at 1 p.m.
“Cal has the same thing on the line as us,” Bongivengo said. “They’re playing for a chance at the PSAC title game and maybe a national playoff berth. That’s just the way the cards fell. It’s just going to be another college football Saturday for us.”
Mihalik said this type of game is exactly what the team has been looking forward to all season.
“This team has worked hard since day one,” Mihalik said. “Not day one of the season, but day one back in January during early morning workouts through preseason, through all the games that put us in this position. The attitude and focus we need is all there.”
Slippery Rock and Cal are currently tied for first place of the PSAC-West but only one team can win the game and stay on top.