Rock football was crowned the best in the west Saturday afternoon, clinching its third straight PSAC West title in a 65-13 rout of Clarion, advancing to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championship game for the third straight season.
The Green and White held a 3-0 advantage after the first quarter, but Clarion answered just 30 seconds into the second to take a 7-3 lead. Around the 9-minute mark, senior wideout and punt return man Jaimire Dutrieuille busted for a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, changing the momentum of the game and setting the tone for its remaining minutes.
“It was an outstanding play and we give Jaimire credit that he was able to see his blockers downfield,” Rock head coach George Mihalik said. “We also give credit to the 10 other guys on the field who were able to give him that space. They had been working really hard to get him that space to make a play. There is no bigger play in football that can change the momentum of the game like a special teams play.”
Dutrieuille finished the game with 210 all-purpose yards, including a 48-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dante Nania to go along with his special teams TD.
Nania finished the game with nine completed passes and three touchdowns before being replaced by redshirt-junior Zack Newsock later in the game. Newsock completed three passes for 54 yards and one touchdown. The substitution was to ensure Nania remains healthy for the PSAC Championship game.
Redshirt-sophomore Cornelius Raye caught five passes for 69 yards and two scores. Sophomore Marcus Johnson recorded two completions for 24 yards alongside Dutrieuille’s 51 receiving yards. Redshirt-junior Leroy McClain added an eight-yard touchdown reception from Newsock.
Senior running back Julian Durden found the end zone twice with 64 rushing yards, scoring his 16th and 17th touchdowns of the season. Redshirt-junior Dominic Dingle rushed for 56 yards and touchdown while redshirt-junior Shamar Greene led all rushers with 82 yards on just 11 carries. Redshirt-sophomore Isiah Neely also added 68 yards to The Rock’s running game.
The SRU defense bruised the Golden Eagles all afternoon with redshirt-sophomore Marcus Martin leading the way with two sacks. Junior Joe Phillips recorded one sack and redshirt-junior Cody Conway recorded 1.5 sacks. Senior Avery Anderson recorded five tackles along with a half sack.
Despite the previously injured redshirt-senior placekicker Mike Wainauskis being available today, coach Mihalik decided to stick with senior Andrew Huska for all-purpose kicking duties. Huska recorded nine touchbacks on 11 kickoffs and was perfect on all extra-point attempts.
The Rock looks forward to Saturday as it travels east to visit West Chester (7-3 overall, 6-1 PSAC) in the PSAC Championship game. SRU looks for a bit of revenge against WCU, as the Golden Rams ended The Rock’s season a year ago with a 46-20 victory in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The last time Slippery Rock played at West Chester for the PSAC title was a 28-14 Rock victory, led by a stellar three touchdown performance by then senior quarterback George Mihalik.
The Rock head coach believes fate will be on his side once more.