Although Slippery Rock University football may have clinched a spot in the PSAC Championship next week against No. 11 West Chester University (8-0), national playoff spots are still on the line, making this week’s matchup with Gannon University (2-7) more important than meets the eye.
“You can say right now you control your own destiny,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said. “When we played IUP, it really became a playoff game every single week. We knew we couldn’t have a margin for error and we want to achieve our goals. Our goals here are to win the West, play in the PSAC, win that and get into the national playoffs and whatever happens after we get into the national playoffs happens. But that’s always been our goal since day one.”
The Rock comes into this week’s matchup with an 8-1 overall record and a perfect 6-0 record in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West action. Gannon is coming off a 38-21 home loss to Mercyhurst University. They entered the game with their second string quarterback but ended the day with both their second string and third string quarterbacks leaving the game due to injury.
Last week for The Rock they are coming off a 44-21 road victory over California University (Pa.), where senior running back Wes Hills went off for 248 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
The Green and White defense currently ranks No. 11 in Division II football against the run, along with ranking No. 12 in the nation in red zone defense with opponents finding the end zone on just 40 percent of their trips to the red zone.
A tall task is ahead this week as The Rock welcomes the PSAC’s second-leading rusher to Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in senior Marcus Jones. Jones currently has compiled 1,282 yards and 14 touchdowns through nine games this season.
“[Gannon] always has a good chance to beat you anytime they have a guy named Marcus Jones at running back,” Lutz said. “We knew that up close and personal last year when he broke a PSAC rushing record against us and we are ready for Gannon. It’s going to be a physical football game.”
Last week a key piece to The Rock’s defense was junior defensive back Eric Glover-Williams who recorded a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, one sack, two pass breakups, and three total tackles earning him PSAC West Defensive Athlete of the Week. Glover-Williams started the season as a slot receiver on offense before being moved to defensive back in week four and since then has racked up 29 total tackles and two interceptions.
“[Glover-Williams] is just a true athlete, and he was struggling a little bit picking up the offense,” Lutz said. “On defense, he doesn’t have to think. He can just go play. Cover that guy man to man, run with him, makes plays, and he does bring a lot of energy to the table.”
The passing game for the Green and White last week had its shortcomings, as junior quarterback Roland Rivers III completed only 10 passes for 141 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Weather did play into that factor with heavy rain on and off during the game against CalU.
Hills enters this week’s contest with the third most rushing yards in the conference with 906, despite missing two games due to injury. With two of the PSAC’s premier running backs clashing this week, whoever has the bigger day could help decide their team’s fate on Saturday.
Resting players this week does not seem like an option for the PSAC title game next week, as national playoff spots are on the line and a win would truly put The Rock in the conversation.
“[If] we lose to Gannon we’re out of the national playoffs,” Lutz said. “I mean there’s a chance we could get in, but to lose to Gannon with that type of record we would need a lot of help. To me, this is do or die time because of the situation we’re in.”
This week marks The Rock’s 14th all-time meeting with Gannon, with SRU leading the series 7-6. Last season The Rock was able to squeeze away with a victory over the Golden Knights 49-45 after a late 73-yard touchdown pass, followed by a defensive stand on fourth and two at the SRU 29 yard line with 39 seconds remaining in the game.
Kick off is set for 1 p.m. this week at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.