Open season

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: September 15, 2022
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It took of all of two and a half minutes for The Rock crowd to hear the PA announcer say, “TOUCHDOWN ROCK!!” The phrase was uttered again twice more in the first quarter. In a way, this came as a shock to everyone, even Rock head coach Shawn Lutz.

As soon as the ball was kicked off, Cohen Russell made his mark on the game. Russell, who played for The Rock in 2019, decided to come back to Slippery Rock after he transferred away for the 2021 season. Russell took the first return of the season 58 yards to set up The Rock at the Wayne State 42-yard line.

The Wayne State defense faced their first test early on, and in the first three plays, they won the battle. But Lutz and the SRU offense decided to start the season on an aggressive note. On their first fourth down of the season, Noah Grover found Max Maciejewski for a six-yard gain. Two plays later, Grover hit Kyle Sheets for the first touchdown of the season.

In last year’s matchup, scoring seemed to come at a bit of a premium. But for The Rock, that was not the case this year. After the Warriors had a three and out to start the game, Slippery Rock got the ball back.

It was Russell who set up the Rock in a great field position once again, this time with a 37-yard punt return. One play later, Chris D’Or was the endzone after some shifty moves on a 32-yard sprint to the endzone.

Wayne State was unable to respond in a situation that felt like a result with no points may be the end. But a good punt put The Rock offense at the one-yard line. The Warriors were hoping that pinning The Rock deep would slow down their momentum, but once again Grover and The Rock offense showed up.

Two passes to Jacob Odom helped get Slippery Rock some breathing room and then Russell once again made a splash play. Russell beat the Warriors offense deep and Grover recognized and launched the ball, which Russell took in stride and by the time it was in his hands it was too late. Before anyone could even look at the scoreboard, Slippery Rock had already put up 21 points.

Everyone on the field looked to be a little bit caught off guard. Of course, Lutz and company came into the game expecting to win, but not many expected the dominant performance The Rock had in the first quarter. Not because of questions that surrounded the team after losing a large number of seniors, but rather because it’s rare that a team has a nearly flawless opening quarter to start the season.

“I just can’t remember playing such a complete first half from an offensive and defensive standpoint, and what we did in the return game really spear headed the momentum for us to do what we needed to do,” Lutz said. “We knew when we got to halftime that you want to play better and get some more guys out, but I’m just really proud of the way these guys showed up tonight.”

As the second quarter started, Wayne State finally got on the board. Griffin Milovanski hit a 36-yard field goal. That cut the deficit, but not for long.

Four minutes later, The Rock had marched 77 yards down the field on 11 plays that saw Grover hit Odom, Sheets and Maciejewski each on the drive. But he finished it off himself, as he ran the ball in for a one-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 28-3.

No one was happier than Grover on Saturday, though. Grover experienced what it was like to have three receivers who had proven themselves as the best last year. This year, he has almost an entirely new core. But he thinks the chemistry he has with them is unmatched and that they proved that in the first half of the game.

“The receivers that we got understood the shoes that they needed to fill, and they busted their a—every single day and wanted to throw every single, then would sit and watch film with me to figure out the techniques they wanted to use,” Grover said. “They had so much confidence in me and it’s the same with me to them.”

Russell got the ball his hands for one last big play to end the half. This time it was an eight-yard touchdown grab.

At the half, The Rock led 35-3. The score is nothing new to Slippery Rock. It’s become almost expected to have big leads in games. But again, this team is full of new players, and not many knew what to expect coming out of the gates.

The second half was all about management and making sure that they held onto their large lead. In the half, Slippery Rock had a missed field goal, which was one of their only mishaps on the night. The only other team that Lutz felt needed some work was the kickoff team because they let up a couple big returns.

“The biggest thing I’m not happy with is our kickoff team, because they put us in a lot of bad positions,” Lutz said. “But we’re going to work on that.”

The green and white punched the ball into the endzone one last time towards the end of the third quarter. Isaiah Edwards, a big bruising back, hammered his way in from 16 yards out. Edwards, like all the other running backs showcased in the game, is someone that Lutz is extremely excited about.

“We got some guys at the running back position and we got them all in there, we got Chris Wells in there a little bit and we got big Isiah Edwards in there and you saw what he can do,” Lutz said.

The fourth quarter was what many would expect it to be. The ball being rushed a lot. But the Warriors finally got a touchdown on the board midway through on fourth and goal as Elijah Taylor connected with Nick Poterack. The pass was highly contested down the middle and was set up by a Rock penalty.

In the end, Slippery Rock pulled out an impressive 42-10 win. The win gave Slippery Rock a few answers as to what their identity will be this season. To Lutz it was important to figure that out this week.

The next step comes at West Chester.

“We got a lot of work to do and a lot of mistakes to clean up, but all in all, I’m happy with the way we played,” Lutz said.

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