The Slippery Rock University football team continued to prove they have been underestimated by almost everyone from the start, defeating New Haven University on their home turf in the second round of the NCAA playoffs on Saturday afternoon, with a demanding final score of 59-20.
The Rock (11-2) accumulated over 500 yards of total offense, recording 263 yards in both the passing and running game.
Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said that, although he always remains confident in his team, he never expected Saturday’s game to have the outcome that it did.
“New Haven posed a lot of problems, with how good their quarterback was,” Lutz said. “For us to come out and play a game the way we did is just unbelievable. I was pleased with all phases of the game—offense, defense, and special teams.
Lutz acknowledged that junior quarterback Roland Rivers III, a 6’3″ transfer from Valdosta State University, hasn’t performed well in recent games, but said that he had perhaps his best performance of the season on Saturday.
“When [Rivers] is up to his standard, we are a dangerous team at this time of the year,” Lutz explained.
Rivers led The Rock offensively with 249 passing yards. He completed 18 passes on 24 attempts (75 percent) and threw for four touchdowns. Sophomore Taylor King eventually took over the quarterback duties late in the game when The Rock accumulated a sizable lead and threw for 14 yards on three completions.
Senior running back Wes Hills rushed for 188 yards, averaging 8.2 yards per carry, while also recording three touchdowns. Hills, like the aforementioned Rivers, was taken out of the game and was replaced by redshirt sophomore Braden Fochtman. Fochtman rushed for 41 yards (3.4 per carry) on 12 attempts that included a touchdown.
Lutz praised the duo of Rivers and Hills for being able to accrue such a vast lead before the start of the fourth quarter.
“I never thought that I would be able to use my second-string guys in the fourth quarter of an NCAA playoff game,” said Lutz, shaking his head. “I like that a lot and I credit the guys and it’s completely unexpected to be honest.”
Despite taking Hills out of the game early, Lutz praised the running back for the positive effect he had on the team this season.
“He’s a man among boys,” Lutz said. “He should not be playing at this level and that is why he is an NFL caliber football player. He’s just a big, bad dude right now and good luck to any team who is trying to stop him.”
The Rock offense continued showing that they are focused on spreading the wealth, as four different receivers caught the four touchdown passes from Rivers.
Senior Dakota Clanagan, redshirt juniors Mike Merhaut and Aramis Alexander, and redshirt sophomore Henry Litwin each caught for one touchdown while combining for 203 yards on 15 receptions.
Defensively, The Rock was led by redshirt sophomore Tim Vernick and juniors Brad Zaffram and Tyree Spearman. The three men combined for 11 tackles while contributing to helping contain New Haven’s highly respected quarterback Ajee Patterson.
Junior Jake Chapla continued to show why he is one of the best kickers in Division II football. Saturday’s game marked several notable milestones for Chapla. He extended his single-season record for field goals made (16) while also becoming the all-time leading scorer in school history for a kicker with 270 points, topping Morgan Anderson’s, who graduated in 2000, record of 266, according to Rock Athletics.
The Rock will look to continue their march for a national championship as they take on Notre Dame College (Oh.) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA playoffs. This is the second time since 2015 that The Rock has advanced this far in the playoffs. Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m. at Mueller Field in South Euclid, Ohio.