Rivalries can be forged anywhere and with anyone in the game of football. Slippery Rock and Notre Dame College are proof of that.
It’s been three straight seasons that they’ve run into each in the playoffs. The previous two games have been in the quarterfinals and have been decided by just one score. Now the two powerhouses meet again in the first round to finish out their trilogy of playoff games.
“It’s becoming a great rivalry, it’s like Ohio versus Pennsylvania, and they’ve been good games and been to down to one score,” Coach Shawn Lutz said. “It’s awesome to be able to play them again, it’s becoming a whole playoff rivalry.”
If you look back at the Slippery Rock versus Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) football game where the Crimson Hawks dominated Slippery Rock in almost every aspect of the game, the future looked very cloudy for The Rock. The 48 points put up by IUP were and still are the most points that the defense allowed all season.
A lot of questions were asked heading into the battle with Mercyhurst University, and they were answered fairly quickly. The game saw the two-win Lakers fight and scrap to a 17-17 score heading into the closing moments of the game. On the final drive a quarterback change was made. Noah Grover stepped in and all momentum changed.
With only three games under his belt, Grover will step into his fourth game as starting quarterback. It’ll be The Rock’s third straight matchup with a ranked opponent, and Grover hasn’t shied away. He’s put up 14 touchdown passes in the past three games, but this time he’ll be down a weapon on offense. That weapon is Jermaine Wynn Jr., who went down last week early in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title game with an injury.
“There’s no replacing Jermaine Wynn, but we’ve got to get the running game going and Max Meciejewski going,” Lutz said. “It’s do or die time, let’s see how many times we can get the ball to Henry Litwin, if we’ve got to give it to him 100 times in that, we’ll do it.”
With Wynn Jr. done for the season, the trio of Wynn Jr., Litwin and Cinque Sweeting have shared the field together for the final time, but Litwin and Sweeting will lead The Rock offense in the playoff matchup against a team that has only allowed around 185-yards passing per game this season.
Grover will look to find them early in the game, especially coming off a three-interception performance at Kutztown University. Lutz doesn’t think that shook him though, and believes it’s all part of the learning curve.
“He doesn’t panic, he’s so calm, cool and collected, we just can’t throw three interceptions because we’ve got to battle to be in games,” Lutz said. “But I feel like he’s learned and each game he’s getting more experience.”
The Rock finds themselves with a little bit of déjà vu for the second straight week. They’ll be returning to South Euclid, Ohio for another playoff game with two losses, just like in 2018. While this game isn’t for the regional title, the game is still a playoff atmosphere. To Lutz, they’ve been playing playoff football since homecoming, however. Being back on the road just adds some fuel to the fire.
“I like [being the underdog], on the selection show they were talking about how it’s going to be Shepherd playing Notre Dame, we like that mentality of people questioning us and being the underdogs,” Lutz said.
A major key is going to be slowing down Tyris Dickerson, who has over 900-yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this season. Coming off a performance that saw The Rock allow 389-yards on the ground, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Falcons come out and try to attack The Rock from the start.
Should The Rock come out on top this weekend, they’ll play either Shepherd University or University of Findlay in the second round of the playoffs, but before they can think about next week, they’ve got a major challenge in front of them in Notre Dame College.
This is round three with the Falcons, and it’s win or go home.
“It’s a new season, it really is and anything can happen in the national playoffs, and we’re excited to be there,” Lutz said. “We expect to win, and we know we can and hopefully we play our relentless style of football for sixty minutes.”