On a cold, wet Saturday in front of a lackluster home crowd, Rock football overcame a slow start to pull away for 41-6 victory over Clarion and retain the Milk Jug for another year.

Despite a steady drizzle that seemed to pick up as the game wore on, Slippery Rock (8-0, 5-0 PSAC) quarterback Roland Rivers III said the conditions did not impact the offense much, as both teams had to play in it.

“We practice in conditions like this,” Rivers said. “We were just excited to go out and play football, no matter where it is or what the conditions. We were outside playing in the parking lot with the same intensity. This is a team that loves playing ball.”

Missing his top two running backs to injury, Rivers had another big day in the air, but it was junior wide receiver Cinque Sweeting who was the difference-maker against the Golden Eagles (3-5, 1-4 PSAC).

With Snorweah, who had at least 12 touches and 70 yards on the ground over the past three games, including a career-high 123 yards against Indiana (Pa.), out of action, Sweeting took a majority of the carries.

The starting slot receiver, who played running back at Seton Hill, took 16 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. He also took a swing pass from Rivers six yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

“I do whatever the team needs. They needed me to play some running back and it was no problem. I played running back all growing up in high school, and it felt good to be back. It felt like my natural element. I was just having fun out there. The [offensive line] made great blocks and I just did my job,” Sweeting said.

Despite a big day from Sweeting and Rivers continuing his push for the Harlon Hill Award with 342 yards and three touchdowns, the Golden Eagles struck first in the game.

An opening possession fumble from Rivers, only his fifth turnover of the season, set up the Golden Eagles on the opposing 35-yard line.

The Slippery Rock defense was able to hold Clarion to a 30-yard field goal despite the excellent starting field position.

“We just turned over the ball, and you can’t turnover the ball. I really give credit to the defense, in being in those situations, to hold [Clarion] to field goals. I thought we got off skelter a bit that way since we’re not used to being held or anything like that,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said.

The Rock offense rebounded with a 60-yard scoring drive, capped off by a Sweeting 1-yard touchdown dive. Despite missing Snorweah and Dinkins, Rivers said that Sweeting did a great job keeping the run game rolling strong.

“He’s a dynamic player for sure,” Rivers said. “It seems like when we need a play, he’s able to make it. We’ve got a group of guys on this team that are poised and able to make plays when we need it. Cinque did a great job today stepping at running back, playing all over the field. It shows how hard he works and it’s a testament to his ability. Very glad to have him on our team.”

However, the momentum was short-lived as Rivers threw an interception on the next drive. Despite being forced into another short yardage situation, the Rock defense responded with another forced field goal.

Junior defensive end Chad Kuhn emphasized that holding opposing teams to field goals when they start on Slippery Rock’s side of the field is a win in his book.

“We’re a very effort-based defensive line,” Kuhn said. “With the talent that we have and the dominance and effort, it’s very hard to block that, if you’re more talented than the person and you work harder.”

Slippery Rock trade field goals with Clarion on the following possession, as senior kicker Jake Chapla capped off a 12-play, 65-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal.

Up 10-6 in the middle of the second quarter, Slippery Rock would not look back.

That 10-6 lead would stand until the latter minutes of the second quarter when Rivers swung a pass perfectly to Sweeting, who juked a few defenders before stepping into the end zone.

Sweeting, who usually acts as the third head of the three-headed monster of fellow junior receivers Jermaine Wynn, Jr., Henry Litwin and himself, did most of his work in the backfield against the Golden Eagles. Lutz decided to use Sweeting as his half back because of the speed and quickness he’s able to offer.

Sweeting was just happy to be able to make some plays for his team.

“Running back is always fun, but I’m happy to do both for this team. They needed me to play more running back today, and I just did my job,” Sweeting said.

Only leading by 11 at the half, Lutz said the initial stop on Clarion’s offense to start the second half really changed the flow of the game.

“For us to get that stop defensively, we knew we could blow this game open,” Lutz said. “No offense to them, I’m not saying this to be negative about our opponent, but there’s a different caliber right now.”

Kuhn and the defense forced a punt from the Golden Eagles’ offense, who switched to backup quarterback Michael Proios in the second half, and the Rock offense was able to get back on the field.

Rivers credited Slippery Rock’s decision to stick to the run game in the first half in opening up opportunities for the pass game in the third quarter.

The passing game opened up the flood gates in the third quarter. On the next offensive possessions, Rivers connected with Litwin and Wynn for touchdown strikes to bust the game wide open.

On Slippery Rock’s first play in the red zone in the second half, Rivers connected with Litwin in the end zone for the 10th time this season. Litwin found himself in some space in the end zone, after breaking into the Clarion secondary, and Rivers lofted a perfectly placed ball toward the back of the end zone. Litwin snagged the ball and got a foot inbounds for the score.

Less than three minutes later, Wynn caught a Rivers’ slant pass underneath and raced past the entire Golden Eagles’ defense for a 56-yard touchdown. His ninth of the season.

The next touchdown was 11 seconds later, but it wasn’t Clarion.

A tipped ball from Proios was corralled by defensive back Jalen Dangerfield, who eluded Clarion offensive players on a 39-yard touchdown return.

Chapla tacked on a 30-yard field to end the third quarter, and the game was essentially over. Leading 41-6 after the third quarter, neither team would score in the fourth.

With the pair of field goals and a few extra points, Chapla continued to inch closer to former Bloomsburg kicker Dan Fisher. Chapla is 11 field goals and 12 points away from the all-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference records.

Despite the five touchdown victory, totaling nearly 500 yards of offense and holding Clarion to only 167 yards, Kuhn said he was most proud of the discipline shown throughout the game.

The six penalties for 45 yards were a far cry from the average of 14 for 135 per game in conference play.

Despite the two turnovers, Rivers continues to remain on pace for a Harlon Hill nomination with a strong day through the air. On the season now, Rivers is completing 73.6% of his passes for 2,533 yards and 28 touchdowns. All three ranks inside the top four nationally while his 28 touchdowns lead all of Division II football.

Sweeting racked up 115 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, Wynn reeled in eight catches for 153 yards and a score and Litwin brought in seven catches for 91 yards and a score.

Kuhn and senior linebacker Brad Zaffram led the defense again. Kuhn continued to add to his career-high 8.5 sack total and Zaffram chipped in with five tackles and two tackles for loss.

Dangerfield and junior defensive back Khadir Roberts picked off passes and defensive lineman Jeff Marx fell on a fumble in the third quarter.

With the win over Clarion, Slippery Rock has won the Milk Jug for the ninth time in 10 years. The lone loss came back in 2016, a 27-23 loss.

Continuing its best season in decades, Slippery Rock improved to 8-0 for the first time since 1939. With a win next week, SRU would improve to 9-0 for the first time since 1924.

Slippery Rock faces a tough conference matchup with California at Mihalik-Thompson Saturday. Both teams are in a fight for NCAA tournament seeding. With a win, SRU would clinch the PSAC-West and California would need a win to keep a playoff berth alive.

Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. The game is designated as Senior Day.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here