Rock head coach Shawn Lutz’s team will have numerous new faces on the field this Saturday against Mercyhurst University (2-3, 1-1) after losing multiple players to injury in a lopsided loss to no. 15 California (PA) University (4-0, 2-0) last Saturday.
“I think it affects the game when you lose one of your best players,” Lutz said. “Shamar will be out for a little bit. He’s one of the top running backs in division II and you don’t replace a Shamar Greene.”
No. 19 Slippery Rock (4-1, 1-1) shied away from its usual rushing attack against the Vulcans after the loss of its star running back. Lutz said the running performance was his biggest disappointment in the game. The Rock ran for a season low of 120 yards and looked to senior starting quarterback Don King III to lead the team after losing Greene. Unfortunately, King faced a stronger defense than he had in the previous weeks and threw three interceptions and completed only 41.9 percent of his passes.
Greene will be replaced by senior Dominic Dingle, freshman Dontez Rash, and redshirt junior Isiah Neely, who is returning from injury himself.
“The other guys just got to step up,” Lutz said. “Neely is coming back, which helps, but we just got to step up and play.”
While Greene may be the biggest loss to the team as an individual, The Rock is suffering the most defensively.
Redshirt senior defensive back John Conglose (concussion) and sophomore linebacker Cody Allen (shoulder) will both miss this game. Major defensive contributors like seniors linebacker Bob Vernick and defensive back Titus Howard, as well as redshirt seniors defensive end Cody Conway and linebacker Anthony Zappone are questionable to play.
For the most part, Lutz said that he has an inexperienced group filling in for injured players. With the exception of senior defensive back Delmar Henderson, who has rotated with Howard for time this season, the linebacker position lacks depth and experience. Linebackers redshirt senior Erik Johnson and freshman Patrick Minenok will be the replacements for this week.
Even though they lack experience, Lutz still expects them to play at a high level.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to feel sorry for you,” Lutz said. “The other guys just have to step up.”
Fortunately for Lutz and The Rock, they will be facing a Mercyhurst team that let up a lot of points and struggle to move the ball on the ground.
The Lakers have been outrushed 1195 to 524 yards this season allowing an average of 239 rushing yards a game. In its win over Gannon University (3-2, 0-2) last Saturday, Mercyhurst allowed the Golden Knights to run for 224 yards. Gannon only ran for 128 yards the previous week against SRU. This is good for The Rock considering it is missing in the run game on both sides of the ball, but Lutz is expecting the rivalry to bring out the best in the Lakers.
“They are known as a physical football team,” Lutz said. “Every time we play them it’s been a battle.”
Lutz and The Rock have a more challenging opponent to face the following week in Indiana (PA) University (4-0, 2-0), but because of the loss to CalU they do not have room to look past the Lakers if they want to win the conference and make the playoffs.
“Things are going to be shaping up pretty quickly in this conference,” Lutz said. “Cal plays IUP this week and we play IUP next week. These next couple weeks will tell a lot of things.”
The Rock and Mercyhurst go head-to-head at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on Saturday, October 8 at 6 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN 3.