The sting of losing a game is unlike any other feeling, but a loss to a rival is even more demoralizing, especially when that rival is unranked Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) team who came to Mihalik-Thompson stadium on homecoming and walked out with a 48-21 win.
The result of the game changed a lot. It was the first time The Rock lost to any PSAC West opponent since 2018. The last time The Rock dropped a PSAC West game at home was against none other than IUP. They walked in that year as the No. 3 team in the nation and walked out with a 34-17 win. The next week, Slippery Rock dropped their second straight PSAC West game on the road to Edinboro. That was the last time they lost to anyone from Western Pennsylvania.
Leading up to the game, the hype was like no other. Slippery Rock was buzzing as they prepared to watch the No. 6 team in the nation host their biggest rival. The parking lots were packed, regardless of the cold, rainy weather that preceded the game. The Rock faithful still packed the bleachers, and by game time the weather had cleared up a little bit.
Slippery Rock took the ball first and on three plays they gained as many yards. It took a mere 57 seconds for the ball to be given to the Crimson Hawks. In their first possession, they didn’t do much either, but they did get a first down. They drove 23-yards on six plays but decided to punt the ball from The Rock 37-yard-line.
The Rock’s second drive was another three and out, with only four yards gained. After that both teams attempted to get aggressive. It took the Crimson Hawks nine plays to drive 23-yards. This time they decided to try to extend their drive by going for it on fourth down, where they were stopped by The Rock defense.
Slippery Rock took the ball from their own 40 and used some trickery with a double pass from Andrew Koester to Kyle Sheets who threw the ball to Henry Litwin for a 36-yard gain. They only gained five more yards before turning the ball over on downs from the IUP 19-yard line.
“When they were playing all that coverage, we couldn’t run the football and we get a five-man box, we’ve got to be able to run the football and we couldn’t,” Lutz said. “I think the defense was put in a lot of tough situations, and they battled.”
After the turnover on downs, the Crimson Hawks took control of the game. They took the ball 74-yards and came away with three points from a field goal at the 24-yard line by Tyler Luther. Slippery Rock was unable to answer and after Koester fumbled, IUP took three plays to find the endzone. Irvin Charles had the first of three touchdown receptions to put IUP up by 10.
Slippery Rock’s first points didn’t come until a punt by Kyle Butts that was downed at the one yard line had IUP backed up, and on third down Khadir Roberts intercepted the ball to give Slippery Rock a great starting point. The drive was short and sweet, and Tim Smith got The Rock on the board to cut the lead to 10-7.
“You’ve got to give credit to IUP, they played well,” Lutz said.
At the end of the first half, IUP carried in a 24-7 lead due to two more scores before the end of the second quarter. The first was a two-yard touchdown run by Malik Anderson and the second came with just 36 seconds to play in the half, when Harry Woodbery and Charles connected for their second score of the game.
IUP came out aggressive and shut down any thought of a comeback in the second half. Both teams knew how crucial the first drive was going to be. Lucky for IUP, they received the ball first. It took them all of three plays to go 50-yards for another score.
The Crimson Hawks saw a soft spot throughout the game when they would kick off and following the opening touchdown, they decided to test it out. While IUP coach Paul Tortorella said it wasn’t an onside kick, it worked like one and just like that they had 10 points in the first three minutes of the half.
The Rock did drive the ball to IUP’s 13-yard line, but it was turned over on downs. That was the story of the second half. A potential 28 points were left off the board for The Rock in total in the game.
The Rock did score twice more, with two touchdown catches. One from Cinque Sweeting and one from Henry Litwin. However, you can’t win if you turn the ball over and The Rock did that four times. Koester finished the day with 228-yards and two touchdowns but had three interceptions and was also sacked three times.
“We lost a game, we’re not used to losing so it does hurt and it does sting, but we’re going to be back and it’s how we refocus and get back to what we need to do to be successful,” Lutz said.