The Rock brings home its 12th PSAC championship

Published by Karl Ludwig, Date: November 21, 2019
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It had been a good season, a great one even. It was historic, successful and had set records previously unmatched by a team in program history. But it looked like it was over.

Entering the fourth quarter of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship (PSAC) game, Slippery Rock trailed Kutztown by 14 points. It was not just the largest deficit of the season; it was uncharted waters for a team that had not trailed in the second half this season.

But Slippery Rock decided it was going to make more history this season.

A stifling performance from the defense in the fourth quarter and a couple of clutch drives from quarterback Roland Rivers III down the stretch enabled a 16-point run and a 37-35 come-from-behind victory over Kutztown Saturday at Andre Reed Stadium.

“Words just can’t describe,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. “Words can’t describe how proud I am. These guys don’t quit, they don’t give up and they find a way to play 60 minutes.”

The victory for Slippery Rock (11-0, 6-0 PSAC) clinched its 12th PSAC championship, the first since 2015, and secured the No. 1 seed in Super Region One heading into the NCAA playoffs.

It all came down to one drive, the last drive for Slippery Rock in the fourth quarter.

With just a tick over two minutes remaining in the game, Slippery Rock needed 65 yards to punch the ball into the end zone. Trailing by four points, a field goal would have done nothing.

A steady stream of Rivers connecting with junior wide receivers Jermaine Wynn Jr. and Henry Litwin brought Slippery Rock into the red zone. A quick lob to redshirt freshman Qaadir Dixon set up SRU at the 8-yard line with 30 seconds on the clock.

According to Lutz, Kutztown’s defense left Slippery Rock with an obvious choice of what to do on 2nd-and-1. Rivers handed the ball off to senior running back Charles Snorweah, who made a quick cut, dashed upfield and dove into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

“They were trying to cover everybody,” Lutz said. “They were trying to double Jermaine [Wynn] and cover everybody. I knew I had another timeout in my back pocket, so we gave it up quick and Charlie scored the touchdown.”

Kutztown got the ball back with 25 seconds left and a couple of Collin DiGalbo and Jack Pinkerton connections, a theme that pervaded throughout the game, set up the Golden Bears with a 51-yard field goal to win the game.

The attempt was no good, and Slippery Rock players, coaches and staff rushed the field in celebration.

The game started at a frenetic pace, as Kutztown opened the scoring midway through the first quarter. The Golden Bears struck on the DiGalbo to Pinkerton connection, jumping out to a 7-0 lead.

Slippery Rock would answer just over two minutes later when Rivers hit Litwin on a touchdown pass of his own. The duo connected for their 15th touchdown of the season, a deep ball down the Kutztown sideline.

Kutztown and Slippery Rock would trade touchdowns, with seven consecutive drives ending in touchdowns before SRU would take a knee to end the first half.

A pair of touchdowns from Kutztown running back Abdul-Hassan Neblett and another touchdown strike to Pinkerton, a toe-tap in the back of the end zone, led the Golden Bears to 28 first-half points.

Another touchdown pass to Litwin, his 16th touchdown of the season which set an SRU single-season record, and a diving touchdown catch from Wynn would lead to a productive first half from SRU.

But Kutztown still led 28-21 at halftime, and Slippery Rock trailed for the first time at half all season.

A look at the locker room at halftime wouldn’t have given any indication though.

“I was nervous,” Lutz said. “I always am, but they didn’t blink. You should have seen them. They thought we were up two touchdowns, you couldn’t tell. They are the most competitive, resilient group I’ve ever been around. There’s not too big of a stage for them.”

Kutztown picked back up in the second half, however, as DiGalbo led a long scoring driving, capped off by a 3-yard rushing touchdown.

Slippery Rock dug itself into a deeper hole when on the ensuing drive, Rivers was picked off. Attempting a deep shot to Wynn, a Golden Bears defender undercut the route, which was a tad underthrown, and ended a promising SRU drive.

The Slippery Rock defense made its biggest stop of the game to that point, getting the ball back in Rivers’ hands just before the end of the third quarter.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Slippery Rock defense had allowed 429 yards and 35 points to the high-powered Kutztown offense. For a defense which had held opponents to under 300 yards and 22 points per game this season, it struggled to contain the trio of quarterback Collin DiGalbo, running back Abdul-Hassan Nebett and tight end Jack Pinkerton.

With the ball on the Kutztown 35-yard line to start the fourth quarter, a 30-yard dart from Rivers to redshirt freshman tight end Max Maciejewski got Slippery Rock in scoring position. A few plays later, Rivers lofted a high, arcing ball to junior running back DeSean Dinkins in the back of the end zone.

Rivers’ fourth touchdown pass of the day cut Kutztown’s lead to just a touchdown. With 11:52 left in the game, Slippery Rock needed its defense to make another stop to get the ball back.

The defense forced a three and out, but the Slippery Rock offense ran into another roadblock on the ensuing drive.

On 4th-and-10, just outside the red zone, Rivers scrambled to attempt to pick up the first down, fighting through a crowd of Kutztown defenders, but the ball was knocked free and recovered by the Golden Eagles. With 6:22 left, the Golden Eagles offense was back on the field.

The defense stopped the high-powered Kutztown offense with another three-play drive. Chapla kicked a 31-yard field goal, which would have been impossible without a 59-yard punt return from Wynn on the next drive and the defense forced a third straight three and out to get the ball back with two minutes left.

The rest was history.

Rivers passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns to increase his Division II leading totals to 3,409 and 40. Through 11 games, Rivers leads all of D-II football in passing touchdowns and passing efficiency and ranks third in passing yards. His performance against a Kutztown defense which had allowed 16.6 points per game heading into the performance earned him the game’s MVP and PSAC-West Player of the Week honors.

Wynn and Litwin both broke the 1,000-yard mark on the season for the first time in their careers at Slippery Rock. Litwin hauled in eight catches for 105 yards and two scores while Wynn hauled in nine catches for 85 yards and a score.

The Slippery Rock offense continued a trend of rushing for near 200 yards in key games with 76 yards from Dinkins, 62 yards from Snorweah and 53 yards from Rivers. The offense threw for 302 yards and ran for 184 in a balanced performance.

After allowing 429 yards in the first three quarters, Slippery Rock’s defense cracked down on Kutztown in crunch time. In the fourth quarter, the defense allowed just 35 yards after allowing 35 points through the game.

Freshman defensive back Selvin Haynes led the way with seven tackles. Junior defensive end Chad Kuhn, redshirt junior linebacker Shane Schuback and redshirt defensive lineman Willford Clark each racked up tackles for loss, but no one could bring DiGalbo down for a sack.

With the win, Slippery Rock unofficially locked up the No. 1 seed in Super Region One, and the NCAA Division II selection show Sunday confirmed it. In two weeks, SRU will play the winner of Shepherd and Indiana University (Pa.) in the NCAA regional semifinals.

Until then, Lutz welcomes the chance for an extra week of rest and recovery before the Division II playoffs begin.

“Rest,” Lutz said, grinning. “Enjoy the PSAC championship tonight, tomorrow and after that, it’s back to work. We’re getting back to ourselves.”

Just making the playoffs isn’t enough for Lutz though, he said he wants to go deeper. He still remembers the feeling of losing to Notre Dame (Oh.) in the NCAA quarterfinals last season.

Slippery Rock will host the winner of Shepherd/Indiana on Nov. 30 at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium. Kickoff time will be determined closer to the game.

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