In what many expected to be one of its toughest games of the season, the Slippery Rock University football team suffered its biggest loss since 2014 on the road against California (Pa.) University Saturday afternoon.
The Rock (4-1, 1-1) came into the game ranked ninth in the nation and CalU (4-0, 2-0) was ranked 24. Slippery Rock was coming off of its first win in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West play against Gannon University and CalU was coming off of a blowout of Seton Hill University.
The Rock started receiving bad news before the game even started, All-Region senior linebacker Bob Vernick was unable to start the game due to injury. Vernick was the second leading tackler on the team coming into the game. The Rock also lost senior cornerback Titus Howard early on in the game. Howard is second on the team with five pass break-ups on the year. Starting senior outside linebacker John Conglose was also out with an injury.
CalU drew first blood; Gary Brown scored a rushing touchdown and quarterback Michael Keir threw his 14th touchdown pass of the year, giving The Vulcans a 14-0 first quarter lead.
The Green and White responded with a touchdown by senior running back Shamar Greene. Later, after SRU had recovered a fumble deep in CalU territory, Greene was shaken up on a big hit, causing him to fumble the ball back to The Vulcans and miss the remainder of the game. Greene is SRU’s all-time leading rusher and the team’s leading rusher this year.
Just before the end of the first half, The Rock was driving down the field trying to tie the game before halftime. This is when thing started to fall apart for The Rock. Senior graduate transfer quarterback Don King III threw interceptions on back to back drives, on of which CalU returned for a touchdown, and Keir threw another touchdown pass to turn what could have been a 14-14 tie at halftime into a 28-7 CalU lead.
CalU kept it going in the second half, scoring three more touchdowns and effectively putting the game away.
King finished an unimpressive 13-31 for 134 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In contrast, Keir finished 20-35 for 280 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Filling in at running back after Greene’s injury were senior Dominic Dingle and true freshman Dontez Rash. Dingle rushed eight times for 28 yards and Rash rushed three times for 31 yards and a touchdown.
When the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt freshman quarterback Nathaniel Musselman enters the game and completed four of five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown to sophomore receiver Carnel Harley.
Defensively The Rock was led by junior defensive end Marcus Martin, who had 13 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior safety Derrick Fulmore had the interception and freshman linebacker Patrick Minenok scored a defensive touchdown on a CalU fumble in the end zone.
Slippery Rock will look to rebound from its first loss of the year next week when Mercyhurst University comes to town to challenge The Rock’s 19 game home winning streak.