It seems to be that every year, there are eyes on The Rock in late October. There are obviously expectations of walking away with another tally added to the win column for every team, but for teams like California (Pa.), there is a strong urge to finally down Slippery Rock and enact some revenge.
For the Vulcans, this game meant more than most. Last year, they came to Slippery Rock as the No. 3 team in the nation. A win would’ve sent them to the PSAC title game, but the loss they suffered ultimately knocked them out of the playoffs.
But Slippery Rock proved early on why they’re one of the top teams in the region in their 42-24 win over Cal U.
“I didn’t expect that, well really, I did, because we have a really good football team,” Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. “The score that they took down already just showed that we left no doubt.”
The crowd wasn’t even fully seated before Noah Grover threw his first of four first half touchdown passes. Cohen Russell jumped up and snagged the ball out of the air to put The Rock up 7-0.
Coming into the game, head coach Shawn Lutz knew that the Vulcans were going to stack the box to try to take away the running game that they’ve been able to develop in the past few weeks. The goal was obvious. Force Grover and The Rock to throw the ball.
“If you put all those guys up in the box, you’ve got to be able to win one on one’s and we did that,” Lutz said.
Cal U followed up Slippery Rock’s touchdown drive with a three-and-out but benefited from a muffed punt. It only led to three points, however.
Momentum could’ve shifted there. Cal U forced The Rock offense off the field just minutes later and had the ball back. Then, Jeff Marx and D.J. Adediwura had two straight plays where they stuffed Cal U at the line on 2nd and 1 and 3rd and 1.
Just three plays later, Grover found Kyle Sheets on a short route that turned into an 85-yard touchdown along the left sideline. All the Vulcans could do was watch as Sheets crossed the goal line and celebrated with the rest of the offense.
“Adversity hits and we respond, we’ve been through it all, man,” Lutz said. “These guys responded, and what can I say other than we won our one on one’s today.”
A defensive battle started brewing after the score. The ball was handed back and forth for five drives before Grover zipped a pass over the middle to Bryce Profitt, who on his sprint to the endzone had nearly 10 yards of space between him and anyone else.
Cal U answered back with a six-play drive that spanned two and a half minutes of gameplay and went 79 yards. Davonte Williams finished the drive off with a four-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-10.
An interception by Jacob Seigle on the following drive had them right back in the game.
Another three-play drive ended any of the progress they had towards taking the step to even the game. Eight plays and 80 yards later, Grover hooked up with Max Maciejewski for his fourth touchdown pass of the game and Maciejewski’s fifth touchdown reception of the season.
The second half opened up with The Rock offense picking up right where they left off. They marched down the field and Chris D’Or took the ball in from one yard out to extend the lead to 35-10.
Noah Mitchell and the Vulcan offense continued to throw punches though. Mitchell connected with JaQuae Jackson to finish off a 75-yard drive.
They still had life. That soon faded like the sunlight that was over the game for nearly the entire afternoon. Chris Wells put the final nail in the coffin with a four-yard rushing touchdown.
Jackson and Mitchell were able to put more points on the board to make the score look more respectable in a game that was dominated by both The Rock’s offensive and defensive lines.
Even with a win over Cal U, The Rock still has a long way to go. But to Lutz every week is already a playoff game.
“It’s playoff time every single game,” Lutz said.