Rock football’s (5-2, 2-2) chances of making the playoffs in the first year of the Lutz era seem unlikely after losing to the Indiana University (Pa.) Crimson Hawks (5-1, 3-1) 48-19.
The Rock was already out of a conference championship run after its first loss to CalU (5-0,3-0). Rock head coach Shawn Lutz sat outside of the team’s locker room disappointed in his players performance.
“In a rivalry game, you don’t expect to get blown out by this much,” Lutz said. “You have to give credit and take off your hats to IUP, they did what they want to.”
The Crimson Hawks began to overpower The Rock early when redshirt sophomore quarterback Lenny Williams, Jr. threw a 89 yard touchdown to junior Allen Wright in IUP’s first offensive play of the game. The Rock would drive down the field when they got the ball back, but a fumble by redshirt junior running back Isiah Neely would end the Rock’s offensive push. The ball was recovered by Indiana’s redshirt junior cornerback Jay Watkins 49 yards for a touchdown.
The Rock immediately made up for its mistake by driving down the field the next drive that was completed by an 11 yard touchdown pass from graduate-transfer quarterback Don King III to junior Marcus Johnson. King threw two out of his three touchdowns to Johnson, who seems to be one of his main targets.
“Me and Don always stay after practice,” Johnson said. “It ain’t nothing much for us to connect, but after the play I just got to make things happen.”
DK3 and Johnson’s connections were not enough, as the Crimson Hawks scored 24 points unanswered until King and Johnson’s second connection. The Rock would never be able to push back again.
Statistically =, The Rock competed with the Crimson Hawks in a very close battle. SRU ran for 120 yards compared to IUP’s 167 and threw for 245 yards to the Crimson Hawk’s 295. King led in both categories with 179 passing yards and 78 rushing yards. Many of SRU’s passing yards came on a 47 yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Nathaniel Mussleman to redshirt sophomore Dakota Clanagan at the end of the game when the deficit was too much to come back from and the reserves were in.
Turnovers were The Rock’s downfall. The offense turned the ball over four times. The Rock offense fumbled the ball twice and King threw two interceptions.
The Rock struggled just as much on defense. The Crimson Hawks took advantage of a Rock defense that lacked. Young players like freshman Pat Minenok were forced to step up and play a big role. Minenok had the second most tackles in the game for SRU with nine.
“It was definitely an eye-opener,” Minenok said. “The energy and the atmosphere before the game was definitely different.”
Despite his high number of tackles, none of them were sacks. In fact, IUP’s Williams was not taken down once by the SRU defense and he did a good amount of damage driving down the field through the air. The defense was even beat down the field on a trick throw from Crimson Hawk’s freshman receiver Zac Kelly to junior wide receiver Allen Wright for a 51 yard touchdown. It was Wright’s second of the game. He had 185 yards.
Lutz admitted that IUP was a better team, but he knows that his athletes’ play was also to blame for the result of the game.
“I think when you are not disciplined to stop a reverse pass and you don’t stay deep, it says they are good team, but we aren’t disciplined,” Lutz said.
For most teams, two losses is a normal season and winning out would be a good thing, but not for The Rock. Lutz is coming into a team with a championship and playoff legacy. In his first year, it is very likely that he may not reach either. Regardless, he still is going to give his all for the rest of the season and will not let his team’s two losses define the legacy he said he has not yet created.
“I know in this program losing is not acceptable, and at the end of the day it is on me as a head coach,” Lutz said. “So, I have to find a way to keep motivating these guys and if guys aren’t doing their jobs, I have to replace them.”
If the strike does not affect the season, Lutz has four more games to rally his team and finish the season on a high note. His first chance will be next Saturday against Edinboro University (5-1, 2-1) in Slippery Rock’s homecoming game.