Following an upset win over nationally ranked Indiana University (Pa.), the Slippery Rock University football team will battle the Edinboro University Fighting Scots on Saturday afternoon in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) matchup. The Rock enters Saturday’s contest with an overall record of 5-1 and 3-0 in the PSAC. They are currently in first place in the PSAC West Division. Edinboro comes in at 4-2 (1-2) and tied with IUP for fourth place.
Leading The Rock offense for the fifth straight game is junior quarterback Roland Rivers. On the season, Rivers has thrown for 1,040 yards (260 per game) on 75 completions and 11 touchdowns. Rivers, who was Slippery Rock’s third string quarterback coming out of camp, will remain the starter, despite second string quarterback sophomore Taylor King returning from injury and being cleared to play, according to Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. Lutz said that junior Andrew Koester, the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, has been given a medical redshirt and is done for the season.
“Both Roland and Taylor can ‘sling’ the ball downfield,” said Lutz, enthusiastically. “It’s nice to be able to have the depth that we do, and now we have Andrew for two more seasons so we’re going to have a lot of depth in our quarterbacks for the next few seasons.”
Senior Wes Hills looks to be slowly returning to his true form. Since returning in week five’s win against Mercyhurst University, Hills has rushed for 195 yards, caught for 72 yards, and recorded a pair of touchdowns. Lutz praised Hills for being able to be an offensive threat as a running back and as a wide receiver.
“Wes is 6’2” or 6’3”, he’s a bigger guy so it’s easier to throw to him,” Lutz said. “The shorter guys have a harder time catching the ball. If you can get him matched up with a linebacker, you like your chances, no question about it.”
The Rock currently leads the entire PSAC in points with 236 on the season, despite not having any player in the top five in any major individual scoring category, with the exception of field goals. Junior Jake Chapla currently leads the PSAC in field goals made with eight. He also recorded the longest field goal of the season in the entire PSAC with a 51-yarder against Mercyhurst.
Although not one Slippery Rock receiver has not been a stand out so far this season, The Rock has 13 receivers who have caught a pass this season, 12 of whom caught a pass in last week’s game at IUP. Lutz said having so many capable receivers on his team is a nice problem to have.
“Last season it was Milly Raye, Marcus Johnson, Milly Raye, Marcus Johnson, occasionally Merhaut,” Lutz said. “You get all these guys and it’s got to be frustrating as a defensive coordinator to figure out what to do. What I always say is don’t let both the running and the passing game beat you.”
Defensively, The Rock will again look for strong performances from junior Brad Zaffram, redshirt junior Trey Blandford, sophomore Trysten McDonald, and senior Kyle Hall. Blandford currently ranks second in the PSAC with six sacks, averaging one per game. Hall ranks sixth in the PSAC with four interceptions. Lutz said although the statistic looks good on print, Hall needs to focus more on “covering his man,” rather than continually looking for a chance to intercept the football.
“Last week IUP kept beating us because they would throw the ball to whoever Kyle was supposed to cover,” Lutz said. “He was too focused on trying to catch the ball rather than covering his man.”
The Rock will also look to redshirt sophomore Tim Vernick to continue his impressive season. Vernick, younger brother to former Rock linebacker Bob Vernick, has been SRU’s unsung hero this season, Lutz said.
“He does everything,” Lutz said. “He calls our defense, he’s smart, and he’s a ‘typical Vernick,’ except he’s not as athletic as his brother. He’s all over the place and he’s so smart.”
The Rock defense will certainly have their work cut out for them, Lutz said. Although Lutz said that the Fighting Scots’ quarterbacks do not pose too much of a threat to his team, he is focusing his concern on wide receivers James Clark and Ta’Nauz Gregory. On the season, Clark has recorded 241 receiving yards, averaging 11 per game, with three touchdowns on 22 catches. Gregory has caught for 479 yards, averaging 16.5 per game, and five touchdowns on 29 catches. Lutz said Gregory is Edinboro’s strongest receiver.
“He plays the slot position,” Lutz said. “He plays kind of like how our receivers play. He’s really quick and is a ‘loose cannon.’”
The Rock has not beaten Edinboro since the 2015 season when they came away with a 52-10 victory. The Fighting Scots won each of the past two season’s matchups 37-35 and 49-39, respectively. Lutz said his offense has got to find a way to beat Edinboro’s defense, which currently lead the PSAC with 16 interceptions.
“[Edinboro] has an extremely talented secondary,” Lutz said. “They have so many takeaways because they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to try and make them make mistakes. That’s how they have won their games this season, by creating turnovers.”
Saturday is SRU’s annual homecoming game. Slippery Rock has not won their homecoming game since 2015 when they beat California University (Pa.), when long time coach George Mihalik was still at the helm of Rock football.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m.