The mighty continue to fall to SRU; #24 West Chester is sixth straight ranked opponent to fall victim to Slippery Rock’s home field advantage.
The Green and White football team ended up winning a hotly contested game 49-42 after relinquishing a 42-21 lead to West Chester University.
“A win is a win,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game with so many ups and downs. We battled, I’m proud of my guys.”
The Rock started early after scoring on their first possession, and it was a familiar sight. Senior quarterback Tanner Garry dumped an eight-yard completion to a wide-open senior tight end Brian Mcnally; the exact same play that opened the scoring for SRU last week at Kentucky State.
“I love any time our tight ends get a chance to make a play.” Lutz said as a former tight end himself.
West Chester answered early in the second quarter when their Running back Jarel Elder ran for a touchdown in what would become a common theme on the day. West Chester managed to churn out 237 rushing yards, with 156 of them belonging to Elder. This was the first time since 2013 that the Rock allowed 200 yards rushing in a game.
Slippery Rock answered the score in the fastest way possible: a kick-off return touchdown. This was just one of many outstanding plays by senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who took the ball 96 yards all the way down the field for the score.
“I love to return, I just wish I would’ve started earlier,” Johnson said. “It was good to have touchdowns in all aspects of the game.”
Slippery Rock added to their lead later in the quarter with one of their few bright spots on the ground when freshman running back Chacar Berry toted the ball 43 yards for a touchdown. Slippery Rock finished with only 90 net yards on the ground between Berry with 58 yards, and senior Isiah Neely with 57.
“90 yards on 30 carries just isn’t good enough,” Lutz said “we have a lot of work to do on that. It has to improve next week.”
West Chester tied the game with two consecutive scores, both through the air. West Chester quarterback Paul Dooley completed half of his passes (19 for 38) for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Two of which were in the second quarter, for 33 yards and 4 yards respectively.
Slippery Rock made sure they went into the half on top, taking only 41 seconds to record their fourth touchdown of the day. Johnson was again the man, this time with a receiving touchdown of 37 yards. Johnson finished the day with 5 catches, 100 yards, and one TD. Johnson has 568 yards receiving and 10 total touchdowns in his last three games.
“I cannot remember having a player this explosive,” Lutz said about Johnson. “There is no way anybody in the PSAC can cover him, and go ahead and try to stop him on special teams.”
Johnson never cooled down during the game, scoring the first touchdown of the second half on a punt return. The 47-yard return completed Johnson’s touchdown triangle (receiving, kick return, punt return) and put The Rock up by two touchdowns.
The Green and White refused to take their foot off the gas, scoring only four minutes later. After only recording one catch in the first half, senior slot receiver Milly Raye got involved in a huge way, taking a pass from Garry 90 yards for his second SportsCenter-quality play in as many weeks.
“That spin move gets me out of trouble,” Raye said, laughing.
The play was just one of a huge night for Raye, who finished with five catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
“There is nothing to it, when I get the ball, all I see is end zone.” Raye said.
It was at this point in the game that things turned on a dime for The Rock. West Chester marched down the field for a 71-yard drive, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by Elder. After Slippery Rock couldn’t answer back, and Elder made them pay by rushing for another touchdown on West Chester’s next drive, this time from 39 yards out.
“They had guys wide-ass open; that just cannot happen, we gotta get that corrected,” Lutz said.
West Chester did not give the Green and White any time to rest; the Rams tied the game less than seven minutes left on a two-yard touchdown pass.
With a tied game and less than three minutes left, Garry led Slippery Rock to an 81-yard touchdown drive, in which he passed for 53 yards. The final play saw a familiar connection, Garry to Raye, for a 23-yard completion that put the Rock up 49-42. Garry Had a second-straight solid start, completing 16 of his 29 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns while throwing two interceptions. Garry was quick to give all of the praise to his teammates.
“The O-line has played great, I never feel pressured too much,” Garry said. Garry’s sentiment was echoed by Lutz, who called the offensive line’s pass protection “outstanding.”
Garry’s nine touchdown passes in two games keeps him in the top five nationally in passing touchdowns.
West Chester was handed the ball one last time, with 2:46 on the clock. Slippery Rock’s defense was certainly not in top form on Saturday, but was clutch when needed on the last series. West Chester threw four-straight incompletions, three of which included QB hurries, and never moved the ball past their own two yard line.
If Slippery Rock defense is being talked about, of course Marcus Martin will be brought up.
“I thought we would do a little bit better of a job against him,” West Chester head coach Bill Zwaan said. “That’s the best defensive player in the country probably.”
Even though his defense gave up 42 points, Martin could easy be labeled as the MVP of this game. His 3.5 sacks bring him within 1.5 of the Division II record, and his 4.5 tackles for loss bring him within .5 of the DII record. Martin also hurried the quarterback four times, helping SRU finish with 12 QB hurries.
One of the brightest spots for the Rock defense came out of nowhere in junior defensive back Anthony Williams. Williams had three tackles in his entire career entering the game, and more-than-tripled it finishing with 10, seven of which were unassisted.
“That’s impressive,” Lutz said on William’s effort. “That guy hasn’t played a lot of football for us, so that’s a good thing to see.”
Slippery Rock will continue to ride their home field momentum next week, when they play 0-2 (0-1) Lock Haven. Lock Haven has only managed 6 points through the first two weeks of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.