The Slippery Rock football team claimed the PSAC-West title outright with their 55-21 win over Seton Hill last Saturday.
SRU will face Bloomsburg University (9-1) for the PSAC Championship this weekend at Bloomsburg.
After defeating previously unbeaten West Chester University, Bloomsburg entered a three-way tie for first place of the PSAC-East with West Chester and Shippensburg University.
Because of PSAC tiebreaker rules, Bloomsburg was chosen to represent the PSAC-East.
After suffering a loss to Gannon University in week three of the season, head coach George Mihalik said his team has been playing a need-to-win mentality.
“You have to be ready week in and week out,” Mihalik said. “Every week has been a playoff scenario for us because we knew we had to win. I’m proud of our squad and the staff that’s put us in this position.”
The Slippery Rock offense is the top scoring offense in the PSAC with an average of 46.2 points per game.
During Monday afternoon’s media conference call, Bloomsburg interim head coach Paul Darragh expressed his concern about SRU’s offense, specifically senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale’s ability to run the ball just as effectively as he can throw it.
Barksdale’s performance this season earned him a spot as a Super Region One finalist for the Harlon Hill trophy that gets presented to the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Out of the 28 candidates selected among super-regions, only eight players will advance to the final ballot.
In last weekend’s win over Seton Hill, Barksdale threw for 262 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Redshirt senior wide receiver John Schademan found the endzone on the first drive of the game off an 11-yard pass from Barksdale. Schademan totaled 125 yards on nine passes and recorded two touchdowns.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Ken Amos caught a 67-yard touchdown pass and totaled 133 yards off eight passes.
“The offense started fast and scored on the opening possession but we lost our momentum at times during the game,” Mihalik said.
While searching for a consistent rhythm against the Griffins, the Rock alternated between Barksdale and redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Newsock.
“We wanted to give Newsock experience at running the entire offense and not just handing the ball off,” Mihalik said.
Newsock totaled 206 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Newsock found redshirt senior tight end Robert Joyce for a 10-yard touchdown pass and freshman wide receiver Drew Scales for a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Joyce totaled 27-yards on two completions. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Leroy McClain had three completions for 74 yards, sophomore Jaimire Dutrieuille had a single completion for 37 yards and redshirt senior Michael Bongivengo capped the receiving effort with one completion for 18 yards.
Redshirt sophomore running back Brett Crenshaw led the rushing effort for the Rock with 42 yards on eight carries.
Senior running back Jimmy Zubik added 35 yards off nine carries and had two completions for 41 yards. Redshirt freshman running back Dominic Dingle totaled 31 yards on four carries. Dingle earned his first collegiate touchdown off a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“We will have to establish a running game against Bloomsburg,” Mihalik said. “A balance between the pass and run will be important.”
Mihalik noted that Slippery Rock’s top running backs redshirt freshman Shamar Greene and redshirt junior Teddy Blakeman should be set to play in the Championship Game after suffering injuries at the game against California University of Pa.
Offensively, Bloomsburg relies on a strong running game and leads the PSAC with an average of 313.4 rushing yards per game. The Huskies are led by senior Franklyn Quiteh and became the third player in Division II history to reach 7,000 career rushing yards last weekend against West Chester.
“They’re going to run and take control of the line of scrimmage,” Mihalik said. “Our defensive line will need to have a big game.”
Slippery Rock’s defense is the second-best rushing defense in the PSAC, allowing an average of 93.9 yards per game. Bloomsburg holds the top spot with 80.1 yards per game.
SRU has been improving defensively with each game and Mihalik said they will need to continue this trend against the Huskies.
“Our defense has been playing excellent football,” Mihalik said. “We’ll need to do that against Bloomsburg and we’re capable of taking on the challenge. Our defensive line will need to have a big game.”
The Green and White held Seton Hill to 50 yards rushing on 50 attempts and recorded 10 sacks, tying a school record set in 1991 against Cal-U.
Junior defensive end Matt Peacock led the attack with 3.5 sacks for a loss of 22 yards, sophomore Cody Conway added three for a loss of 19 yards while Brandon Burley, Tony Papley and Derek Walker each added one and junior Austin Miele was credited with 0.5.
Redshirt sophomore safety Derek Morgan intercepted Seton Hill’s Nick Halfhill in the first quarter. Morgan leads the Rock defense in interceptions with three this season.
Like in past weeks, Mihalik said that the key to the Bloomsburg game will feature a solid performance from the special teams.
“Bloomsburg has excellent kickoff and punt returns,” Mihalik said. “Special teams will have a big impact in terms of field position. That will be key in this game.”
Despite having a fumbled punt return, SRU’s special teams made several momentum-changing plays in favor of the Rock.
Freshman defensive back Derrick Fulmore blocked a punt in the second quarter and recovered the ball in the endzone for a touchdown.
In the third quarter, Scales took a kickoff return 82 yards for a touchdown after Seton Hill’s first scoring drive of the game.
Despite defeating Seton Hill, Slippery Rock fell in regional rankings to No. 5 after being ranked No. 4 last week. Bloomsburg moved up to No. 3 and West Chester fell to No. 4.
“Moving from fourth to fifth is definitely a lack of respect for this program,” Mihalik said. “We take it to heart and our players have something to prove this week.”
A win this week for either team would secure a spot in the NCAA playoffs while the losing team will have their fate left to chance.
Slippery Rock will play Bloomsburg for the PSAC Championship at 12:30 p.m. at the Robert B. Redman Stadium.