A struggling Rock football team was down by two touchdowns when senior wide receiver and return specialist Drew Scales ran an early fourth quarter kickoff 64 yards to start a late comeback victory over the University of New Haven on Saturday.
The New Haven Charger’s senior quarterback Ajee Patterson opened the final quarter with a 57-yard touchdown to post-grad wide receiver Ty Headen for their second deep touchdown pass of the day, leaving the Rock trailing 28-14.
Scales quickly responded on the kickoff by dashing through a hole and running to the outside before being stopped by the Chargers’ last defender in sight. Scales had 195 all-purpose yards which included a 21-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter.
“We were in the locker room saying ‘make plays, make plays,’” Scales said. “I felt like I saw that ball coming, I knew I needed to make a play. I feel my team looks at me as a playmaker.”
Slippery Rock’s post-grad quarterback Don King III would use the field position Scales gave him and lead the Rock’s charge to the end zone with a few runs and a 9-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Marcus Johnson. A missed extra point attempt and a later red zone stop by the Chargers led to a field goal would still leave the Rock down 28-23 with only 3:35 left in the game.
On third and short from the 30-yard line, King scrambled out of the pocket and connected with redshirt junior receiver Cornelius Raye for a 30-yard touchdown, only to be called back for an illegal forward pass resulting in a 5-yard loss and a loss of downs. King and the Rock offense went back to the pass on 4th down, this time connecting with Johnson for a 33-yard leaping catch over Charger defenders in the middle of the field for a first down, leaving redshirt senior running back Shamar Greene room to run into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
“I feel like I have full faith in all my receivers,” King said. “We had a couple drops, but Marcus was catching the ball and was my go to for the game. Anything you throw his way he’s catching it.”
With less than two minutes left, the Chargers could not find the answers to get the ball down the field. The Rock sacked New Haven’s Patterson back-to-back times before the Chargers punter ran into the back of the end zone to purposely for force a safety so that they could have a chance to recover an onside kick.
The recovery attempt failed and SRU defeated UNH 31-28. This was new head coach Shawn Lutz’s first win as a head coach for Slippery Rock and he credits the offense’s ability to not give up for it.
“We weren’t on the same page,” Lutz said. “Going into halftime and the third quarter, we were upset and sloppy, but we found a way to snap out of it, but it credits our offensive football team. They found a way to make plays when they need to make plays, and you can’t argue with the results.”
The Rock had a strong first quarter outing on offense scoring two touchdowns on the ground by Scales and later in the quarter by Greene on a 71-yard run. Greene ran for 126 yards on 15 carries. Scales assisted in the rushing attack with 64 yards and a touchdown. King would contribute 49 yards on the ground of his own.
The Rock would quickly lose that momentum in the second quarter. King had trouble connecting with his receivers early in the game. In the first half, The Rock receiving corp had three dropped passes.
King also had trouble throwing. He completed 14-33 passes for 101 yards and threw two back-to-back interceptions late in the second quarter that resulted in two touchdowns by the Chargers quarterback Patterson. A one-yard touchdown run and another deep pass to his main target, Headen. Patterson would throw 12-26 for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Headen would assist him with four receptions for 137 yards.
It was not until King found his rhythm with Johnson that he was able to respond to a poor performance for the majority of the game. King connected with Johnson five times for 54 yards. Scales also contributed too with three receptions for 30 yards.
While the offensive show in the fourth quarter was the highlight of the game, it was a strong defensive performance that kept the Rock in the game.
SRU held New Haven to 63 yards rushing, seven tackles for a loss and three sacks. Redshirt junior Marcus Martin continued to live up to the hype he has generated in his career, sacking the quarterback 1.5 times making him the all-time leader in sacks for SRU.
“It’s a huge stepping-stone for me,” Martin said. “I always set goals for myself. I always set goals that are achievable for me. I didn’t think it could happen at first, but as time went by it just became another goal.”
Martin also had 11 tackles. Redshirt senior linebacker and Eastern Michigan transfer Anthony Zappone also had 1.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Bob Vernick had 10 tackles and redshirt senior defensive tackle Mike Kope contributed eight.
Coach Lutz feels that UNH is some of the best competition that the Rock will face all season. He said even though the game was not the best overall, but that type of game could work in their favor because they realize they need to improve.
“We won the game, but look what you have in week two,” Lutz said. “I don’t think anyone is going to walk around cocky or over-confident.”
The Rock’s next game is West Chester University on Saturday, Sept. 10 at West Chester. West Chester beat Bentley University 31-24 on Saturday. Lutz may feel that a close game with New Haven will humble his team for the upcoming game, but a 61-12 blowout over the Golden Rams in last year’s PSAC championship could have The Rock complacent.