The Slippery Rock University football team hosted Seton Hill University on Saturday afternoon in what was the first week of conference play. Despite a number of scoring threats from the Seton Hill offense, The Rock ultimately took down the Griffins and came away with the 49-26 victory.
The win puts the Green and White at 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). Seton Hill drops to 0-4 (0-1). Seton Hill has not won a game since Oct. 22, 2016, when they beat Mercyhurst University 55-45.
The Rock offense was led in large part by junior quarterback Roland Rivers. Rivers threw for a season-high 327 yards with 16 completions and five touchdowns and ran for 80 yards, including a two-yard touchdown rush, in the process. Rivers took over at quarterback starting last week at Millersville after starter Andrew Koester and backup Taylor King, a junior and sophomore, respectively, suffered injuries the week before.
Rock head coach Shawn Lutz praised Rivers’ performance but acknowledged that there are much needed improvements.
“You can’t argue much with five touchdowns but the thing that [Roland] does a great job of is extending plays,” Lutz explained. “There were so many times people had him in the backfield and just the way he extends plays and continues to look downfield. He missed a couple of reads, especially in the first quarter, but right now we are 2-0 with him as the starter.”
Rivers played for a majority of the game until he was replaced by redshirt freshman Kameron Patterson early in the fourth quarter. Lutz said the decision to take out Rivers was made because he wanted to preserve Rivers for next week and to get Patterson some more reps in case he is needed in a future game.
“[Roland] is the third quarterback to have played for us this year,” Lutz explained. “We only have one backup quarterback at the moment so we have to get him game experience because Roland can be one play from getting hurt.”
Patterson would throw for 13 yards on two attempts while connecting with redshirt junior Aramis Alexander for a 13-yard touchdown.
The Rock again had to do without running back Wes Hills. Hills, a transfer from the University of Delaware, was injured just two plays into week two’s loss to Shippensburg University. With Hills hurt, The Rock offense rushed for just 163 yards against Seton Hill compared to week one’s 269 yards carried against Kentucky State. Redshirt sophomore Braden Fochtman rushed for 55 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, on seven attempts. A majority of The Rock’s offense came on the receiving end, with all five of Rivers’ touchdown passes being caught by different receivers. Redshirt junior Mike Merhaut led the way with 85 receiving yards on three catches and a touchdown. Junior Austin Scott and redshirt sophomores Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn Jr. combined for 118 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
With Hills injured for the time being, The Rock’s passing game was going to have to improve, which it did, Lutz said.
Defensively, The Rock was not able to contain Seton Hill’s strong offense in the first half, which was led by wide receiver Ardell Brown. Before Saturday’s game, Lutz called Brown “the best wide receiver in Division II in the country.” Although Brown was limited to just one touchdown, he recorded 145 receiving yards on 12 attempts from quarterback Colton Mitchell. The Rock defense came together and allowed just one touchdown in the second half. Sophomore linebacker Trysten McDonald helped lead a defense plagued by injuries. He recorded eight tackles, forced one fumble, and tallied an interception. McDonald said the defense does not think too much about the injuries.
“It’s next person up,” McDonald said. “Everyone who is at Slippery Rock are good athletes and come ready to play. Last year, I wasn’t projected to start and we had an injury and then I started as a true freshman, so it’s anything to help the team win.”
McDonald was aided by junior linebacker Brad Zaffram. Zaffram recorded a game-high 10 tackles. Lutz praised the “fiery” attitude Zaffram brings to the team and the level to which he plays the game.
“He brings a relentless attitude to the game,” Lutz said. “I worry about him sometimes because he is a little bit ‘chippy’ out there but he brings so much skill to our defense.”
Sophomore Garret de Bien and redshirt junior Trey Blandford each recorded a sack in the game and combined for three solo tackles.
The Rock will look for their third straight win when they host Mercyhurst University (1-3/0-1) on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.