The Slippery Rock football team took down California University of Pa. 35-17 last Saturday to become the sole leaders of the PSAC-West.
In order to hold the title by themselves, SRU must defeat their final conference opponent, Seton Hill University, Saturday.
The win over Cal-U moved Slippery Rock ahead in several rankings. They moved up four spots in the NCAA AFCA poll to No. 20, five spots in the D2Football.com poll to No. 15, eight spots in Beyond Sports Network’s Division II Power Rankings to No. 14 and one place in regional rankings to No. 4.
Redshirt senior linebacker Quindell Dean was part of the 2011 team that came close to obtaining a playoff berth but were passed over after the loss to Kutztown University in the PSAC Championship game.
“We’re not letting go this time,” Dean said. “We’re going to continue to push and get these last two games so they can’t pass us up.”
Despite the potential NCAA playoff appearance looming, head coach George Mihalik is focused on claiming the conference title.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Mihalik said. “This weekend is for the outright sole possession of the Western Conference. We don’t want to share it with anyone else.”
Seton Hill has yet to win a game in their first season as a member of the PSAC-West. They will be bringing everything they have into Saturday’s match in order to upset the Rock.
“You don’t ever overlook an opponent,” Mihalik said. “We did that in week three. We learned our lesson and we’re not going to let history repeat itself.”
Slippery Rock heads into the game with a versatile offense and a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in the past five games.
Dean led the defensive effort against Cal-U with 16 tackles, earning him national recognition as one of Beyond Sports Network’s Division II Athlete of the Week.
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Tony Papley recorded seven tackles, followed by redshirt senior linebacker Bob Westerlund with six.
Junior Austin Miele, redshirt junior defensive end Kevin Kulka and freshman linebacker Bob Vernick each recorded five tackles.
Vernick was asked to step in this game after a review on a targeting penalty during the game against Edinboro University prevented senior linebacker Gary Allen from being eligible to play.
“Gary is a big part of our defense,” Mihalik said. “The defense is like a brotherhood and they knew they had to up their level of play to support Vernick. Vernick stepped up and played a good game.”
The Rock defense has been utilizing the efforts of different players each game to try and throw off the opposing defense.
Redshirt sophomore safety Derek Morgan recorded SRU’s only interception against Cal-U late in the fourth quarter to end the Vulcan’s comeback attempt.
“Our motto is to play relentlessly,” Dean said. “We’re just going to keep playing relentlessly. It doesn’t matter if a team is 0-9. We have to push and that’s just the way it is.”
The strong stance from the defense allowed the Rock’s offense to take their time finding a comfortable rhythm.
Out of their four possessions, SRU was forced to punt three times and senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale was picked off once.
“Cal shut me out the first quarter,” Barksdale said. “I wasn’t too happy about it but the defense stepped up and I was able to get into a rhythm after the first touchdown.”
After figuring out Cal’s defensive attack, Barksdale was able to throw for 274 yards and two touchdowns. Barksdale also added to the offensive effort on the ground with 125 rushing yards and one touchdown.
“When you have a mobile quarterback that is a threat with his arms and legs, it puts tremendous pressure on the defense,” Mihalik said. “Barksdale can make things happen for the offense.”
Barksdale’s effort earned him the PSAC Offensive Player of the Week, as well as one of the recipients of Beyond Sports Network’s National Division II Athlete of the Week.
Redshirt senior wide receiver John Schademan earned his sixth 100-plus yard game of the season with 105 receiving yards. Schademan also caught a touchdown pass from redshirt senior wide receiver Michael Bongivengo.
Bongivengo also contributed to the offensive effort with two completions for 12 yards.
Barksdale’s two touchdown passes went to sophomore wide receiver Jaimire Dutrieuille and redshirt senior tight end Robert Joyce.
Dutrieuille had seven completions on the day for 57 yards. The touchdown pass was Joyce’s sole completion of the day for 14 yards.
Redshirt junior Ken Amos added 48 yards off six completions.
Slippery Rock totaled 249 yards rushing.
Redshirt sophomore running back Brett Crenshaw took 14 carries for 65 yards and ran in one touchdown. Redshirt junior Teddy Blakeman totaled 17 yards on three carries, followed by senior Jimmy Zubik with 16 yards and six carries and redshirt freshman Shamar Greene with 13 yards on four carries.
With the offense continuing to produce solid numbers and the defense stepping up, Mihalik said he’s noticing the team evolve.
“We’re becoming a total, complete team,” Mihalik said. “I love the play of the defense and the offense, but we still need to improve on phases of special teams. We had a blocked field goal attempt and you can’t have that.”
Slippery Rock will face off against their final regular-season opponent, Seton Hill, at 12:30 p.m. in Greensburg and look to claim the PSAC-West title.