Rock drops first of the season to No. 3 IUP

Published by The Rocket, Author: Assistant Sports Editor - Stephen Cukovich, Date: October 16, 2017
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No. 9 Rock football (6-1) fell to No. 3 Indiana University of Pa. (7-0) 34-17 at a jam-packed Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in the Green and White’s homecoming game this past Saturday afternoon.

With the loss, The Rock falls to 3-1 in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play, while IUP remains perfect in conference play and overall.  SRU falls to second place in the PSAC West right behind IUP and with California University of Pa. (5-2) in third place.  The game’s attendance was a record turnout that was listed at 10,111, while Mihalik-Thompson Stadium is listed with a seating capacity of just 10,000.

“I’ll tell you what I’ve never seen a crowd like we’ve had today; I’ve been here 20 years,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said after the game.  “It’s such an electrifying atmosphere for everybody involved and it adds more feel to the game.”

On the first possession of the game, The Rock drew first blood when a redshirt senior quarterback Tanner Garry capped off a seven play, 75-yard drive while converting twice on third down, with a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Marcus Johnson.  The following drive, IUP took the ball down the field deep into SRU territory on a 12 play drive, but Rock junior defensive back Kyle Hall came up with a red-zone interception to kill the drive.

The Green and White were then able to cash in on the turnover 13 plays later when sophomore kicker Jake Chapla nailed a 27-yard field goal to put SRU up 10-0 with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter.   On the next two possessions, each team exchanged punts, as The Rock was able to pin the Crimson Hawks down at their own two-yard line.  Two plays later, The Rock nearly had sophomore running back Samir Bullock in the end-zone for a safety but broke free for an 84-yard run to set up a field goal four plays later.

“Coach just told me go out there and make a play,” Bullock said.  “When I got the ball outside I thought I was going to get tackled.  Then I saw the safety and I got through him and it was just daylight.”

SRU was then forced into a three and out the next drive, which was followed by a game-tying 25-yard touchdown pass to cap off a seven play 48-yard drive with 5:36 left in the half.  Another three and out for The Rock came on the next drive, which resulted in another Crimson Hawk touchdown pass on a 10 play, 91-yard drive to take a 17-10 lead into halftime.

“What I think was a crucial play and I don’t know if we ever really recovered from it was we had an opportunity to get that safety,” Lutz said.  “That really hurt us.  It’s all about momentum.”

Indiana received the second half kick-off and was able to increase their lead off a long 13 play, 82-yard drive that was finished off by a four-yard touchdown run.  The Rock responded the next possession with a long drive of their own going 81 yards on 17 plays, that was capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior running back Isiah Neely to make the score 24-17 IUP with 4:01 left in the third quarter.

The two teams exchanged punts again on the next two possessions, but IUP was able to add on a field goal early in the fourth quarter.  They gave the ball back to The Rock but forced them to punt after just five plays.  The Crimson Hawks put the game out of reach off a five-yard touchdown pass their next drive, going 80 yards down the field on just four plays.  Slippery Rock’s next two possessions resulted in two interceptions which aloud IUP able to run out the clock and win the game 34-17.

“We did a decent at times throwing the ball downfield,” Lutz said.  “But what happened was they started getting pressure on Tanner and also you gotta run the football better.”

SRU’s running game managed just 66 yards on the day, while the Crimson Hawks were able to muster 384 yards, with 169 of those yards coming from Bullock.  The Rock found more yards through the air as Garry threw for 316 yards and a touchdown, but IUP’s redshirt senior quarterback Lenny Williams found the end-zone three times for 225 yards.

This weeks loss marks only the second loss at home for The Rock in the past 27 years.  Up next for the Green and White includes a trip up north to visit the Fighting Scots of Edinboro University (4-3).  Edinboro defeated Mercyhurst University (3-4) last week 28-25.

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