Slippery Rock University football (9-2) fell to No. 9 West Chester University (10-0) in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championship 10-33 on a cold and windy day Saturday afternoon at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
The winner of the PSAC Championship has an almost guaranteed spot in the National Playoffs, with the loser given a slim to none chance of making an eighth seed spot in the National Playoffs.
“We have a lot to be proud of with what we accomplished this season,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said. “And it’s just disappointing how we played today. We just didn’t play good enough to win the game. You can’t be down the deficit we were and expect to win the game.”
The Rock struck first blood on their opening drive off a 32-yard field goal from junior kicker Jake Chapla, but the Golden Rams would go on to score touchdowns on four consecutive drives to leap out to a 27-3 lead with 8:06 remaining in the first half.
Towards the end of the second half, the momentum seemed to be turning around in the Green and White’s favor after a 51-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Henry Litwin with just over two minutes to go in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 17.
“When it was going bad, it was going bad for us,” Lutz said. “They had it today. I mean just give them credit, we did not play. We’ve been rolling and now we just have to wait and see if we get into the National Playoffs. I do feel this way, though. I do still feel we’re a damn good football team. We can still beat anybody in the region.”
West Chester would then respond just before the end of the half off a 17-yard touchdown pass to bump their lead back up to 23. The second half would prove to be a defensive showdown, with neither team really able to get anything going. The Rock’s first three possessions in the second half would end in either turn over or turn over on downs deep in the Golden Ram’s territory, killing any momentum the Green and White could put together.
“We gotta win those one-on-one matchups in the passing game and they covered us pretty well,” Lutz said. “It was a little bit windy, but that’s no excuse. The bottom line is that defense was all over the place for them, they did a tremendous job today.”
Rock junior quarterback Roland Rivers III completed six of 31 passing attempts for 145 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. With the weather not particularly in any quarterback’s favor, Rivers wasn’t placing blame on the bitter cold that took place Saturday evening.
“It played a role but we still could’ve executed better. No excuses. We just didn’t get it done,” Rivers said.
The ground game for West Chester lead by Golden Rams quarterback A.J. Long was the Achilles heel for The Rock. Long was able to rack up 135 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown while passing for 153 yards on the day completing 13 of 21 passing attempts for three touchdowns through the air.
“I’ll tell you what, A.J. Long from West Chester did a great job,” Lutz said. “He’s a multi-threat just like Roland is and he stepped up, made some plays. There were so many third downs early in the game that we gotta get stopped and he would scramble. He would extend plays and we gotta do a better job.”
Senior running back Wes Hills had a grinding day as he was handed the ball 23 times and was able to rack up 92 yards, but was not able to find the end zone. In total, The Rock was able to put up 243 yards of offense in 70 plays, while West Chester was able to muster 344 yards on 68 plays on their way to their conference-leading 19th PSAC Championship in program history.
The Rock’s National Playoff hopes are dim but not out completely. They will wait for the results from other games around the country to see if they can sneak their way in with a 9-2 overall record and a perfect PSAC West record of 7-0.