Inspired defensive performance leads Rock football past Griffins

Published by adviser, Author: Cody Nespor - Sports Editor, Date: November 6, 2016
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Against one of the best passing offenses in the entire country, the Slippery Rock defense balled out Saturday afternoon to down the Seton Hill University Griffins 33-21. The win snaps SRU’s three-game losing streak and is the team’s second Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) victory.

The Rock broke the school’s record for most interceptions in a game with six. Senior Bob Vernick and freshman Roman Denson each had two, with seniors Anthony Zappone and Derrick Fulmore adding in one each.

Vernick, a linebacker, had one of the best games of his career, totaling 18 tackles, one for loss, with the two interceptions and two more pass breakups.

Also having a big game for the Green and White was senior transfer quarterback Don King III. In his return from a two-week injury, King completed 33 of 54 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. As late as Wednesday Rock head coach Shawn Lutz thought King would be too injured to play.

Lutz said that King was cleared by medical staff on Thursday and on Friday the decision was made that he would start against The Griffins.

“He’s just a class act,” Lutz said. “After being out for two weeks, getting very few reps for him to play that well is amazing.”

Seton Hill’s starting quarterback Christian Strong was leading the PSAC in passing yards entering the game, but had to be removed from the game during Seton Hill’s first drive due to injury. Strong’s replacement, Cory Cavanaugh, threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in relief, but also threw all six of SHU’s interceptions.

The Rock jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead on touchdowns by freshman Dontez Rash and senior Drew Scales. In the third quarter, defensive lineman junior Marcus Martin and senior Mike Kope sacked Cavanaugh in the end zone for a safety and freshman Jake Chappla hit a 30-yard field goal to increase the lead to 19.

Cavanaugh found his footing in the fourth quarter, throwing two touchdown passes in the first three minutes to pull Seton Hill back into the game, making it only a 19-14 SRU lead. King and the Rock offense responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown catch by junior Marcus Johnson.

Seton Hill would score again with just over five minutes left to make it a 26-21 game. Each of the last two weeks, Slippery Rock had lost on last-minute touchdowns by the opposing team and The Rock seemed determined not to let that happen a third time.

As Seton Hill was driving down the field looking for the winning score, Denson picked off Cavanaugh with just under two minutes left to play. Junior running back Isiah Neely scored on the ensuing SRU drive on a 28-yard touchdown run and Denson picked off Cavanaugh one more time for good measure with six seconds left to ice the game.

Not lost in the win, Scales became The Rock’s all-time leader in returning yards with 1,716, passing 2007 Rock alum Paul Favers.

A scary moment for Slippery Rock in this game, junior cornerback Titus Howard went down with an injury in the third quarter and had to be taken off the field by EMTs on a stretcher. Howard flashed a thumbs up and waved to the crowd as he was taken off the field. The extent of his injury is not known, however, it was reported that he was discharged from the hospital later that night with no serious injuries.

Lutz said that Howard was okay after what was initially a scary looking hit. Lutz also said that Howard’s presence on the field is a huge boost to the defense.

“He’s a big player,” Lutz said. “When he’s out there the defense is much better and with his size he’s a legitimate NFL prospect.”

For the first time in a long time, The Rock will not be making the post-season and will conclude their season next week at home versus PSAC-East opponent East Stroudsburg University.

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