The Slippery Rock University football team will take on the Mercyhurst University Lakers on Saturday evening in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) matchup.
The Rock (3-1/1-0) is coming off a 49-26 victory over Seton Hill University (0-4/0-1) and is currently tied with Clarion University (3-1/1-0) for second place in the PSAC West standings. Mercyhurst (1-3/0-1) comes off a 34-7 loss to No. 2 ranked Indiana University (Pa.) and sits in the bottom half of the standings.
Despite the Lakers winning just one game this season, Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said his team cannot underestimate their opponent.
“It’s always close with Mercyhurst,” Lutz said. “I don’t remember a time where we just ‘blew out’ Mercyhurst—maybe at home like five or six years ago.”
Leading The Rock offense for the third straight week at quarterback is junior Roland Rivers. Rivers is coming off a game where he threw five touchdowns to five different receivers and ran for 80 yards that included a two-yard touchdown. Saturday’s performance against Seton Hill saw Rivers named the “PSAC Western Division Offensive Athlete of the Week,” the first time this season a member of The Rock offense was awarded the distinction.
With senior running back Wes Hills still out with an injury, Lutz said there might be times in the game where Rivers acts as the running back on certain plays.
“He’s a running back playing the quarterback position,” Lutz said. “It’s tough for the defense to prepare for something like that because when he runs the ball, the other team has to put another guy in the box to try and stop that. It’s a great thing to have.”
Lutz did say that Hills has been medically cleared to “resume activities,” but he is unsure if he will be ready for Saturday’s game.
“It’ll be a bonus if Wes is able to play this week,” Lutz said. “Everything is kind of up in the air at the moment.”
Besides Rivers, The Rock has redshirt sophomores Braden Fochtman and Chacar Berry in the backfield to help Slippery Rock in their running game. On the season, Fochtman and Berry have combined for 252 rushing yards and 63 yards per game. Lutz praised Fochtman’s performance this season and acknowledged him as one of the team’s fan favorites.
“Give [Fochtman] credit,” Lutz said. “Chacar was the starter with Hills out but Braden really stepped up last week and I think he’s a fan favorite. People like watching him play so I am really happy for him.”
On the season, Slippery Rock has accumulated 1197 receiving yards, averaging 299.25 yards per game. Redshirt sophomore Henry Litwin and senior Carnel Harley currently lead The Rock with 296 and 204 receiving yards, respectively. Junior Austin Scott has caught for 173 yards and redshirt junior Mike Merhaut for 149 yards. These four players make up for 68.7% of The Rock’s total receiving yards this season. Lutz praised his receiving core and called them one of biggest strengths on the team.
“I am very pleased with our receivers this season,” Lutz said. “Litwin is turning into a prime time receiver. I am not saying he is the best in the PSAC right now, but he’s becoming our sort of ‘go-to’ guy when we pass the football.”
Lutz praised the rest of his offense for being able to operate so efficiently, especially with the injuries affecting his quarterbacks this season. A large part of the success that The Rock offense has had this season, in terms of understanding and working with the four different quarterbacks who have played for SRU this season, can be attributed to Justin Roper, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Lutz explained. Lutz said during the team’s summer camp and pre-season, Roper would give equal reps to each of SRU’s four quarterbacks.
“Even during the first week leading up to the first game against Kentucky State, Roper was giving reps to three of our quarterbacks,” Lutz said. “I think that keeps our offense’s minds fresh and it’s a great thing to have.”
The Lakers sit fourteenth out of 15 teams in the PSAC for offense. They have scored just six touchdowns and 50 total points. Despite the low numbers, Lutz said his team’s defense should not misinterpret the Laker offense. Lutz said the biggest offensive threat on the Lakers this season is a wide receiver by the name of Austin Hence. Hence, a 6-5” 210 lbs. junior, recorded 120 receiving yards on seven catches against Indiana University (Pa.) on Saturday. Hence is no stranger to The Rock’s scouting report either. During last season’s matchup with Mercyhurst, Hence recorded 90 yards on five catches, with one being a touchdown. The Rock would go on to win the game 31-28.
Lutz said he does not expect for Laker head coach Marty Schaetzle to go down without a fight.
“[Marty] isn’t going to give up,” Lutz explained. “He has beaten us before and every year, no matter what, his team is always ‘in the game’ with us.
Saturday’s contest will be the 11th time that Slippery Rock and Mercyhurst have played each other. The Rock owns a 6-4 record all-time against the Lakers, according to Rock Athletics.
Saturday’s game is also The Rock’s “Hall of Fame” game, where seven former members of SRU Athletics will be inducted into the University’s 35th Hall of Fame class, and the “Salute to Military and First Responders” game. For more information visit Rock Athletics.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.