There is no team in all of college football that wants to go home before December even hits. Unfortunately, there are only two teams that get the opportunity to play for the national title. One of them gets the hoist the ultimate prize.
This year, Slippery Rock fell short of being one of those teams.
“Our goal is always to compete for a national championship, and at least get to the final four, and we didn’t do that,” head coach Shawn Lutz said. “But a lot of teams would love to be four-time defending PSAC West champs and a playoff team that made it to the sweet 16, but that’s not where we want to be.”
The season, which started all the way back in September, and really began the moment The Rock walked off the field from their first round playoff loss to Notre Dame College last year, looked to be very promising.
There were questions after The Rock lost what could be considered as their best class in a long time. Lutz and The Rock were able to fill those holes that were left with the likes of Brandon Bischof, DJ Adediwura and many others.
“They brought great leadership, and anymore when you’re dealing with the transfer portal [it’s hard],” Lutz said. “You want to get the right guys, who have great character and we were able to do that.”
All the questions were answered when Wayne State made the trip down from Michigan to battle The Rock for the third time in the past four years. In 2021, Wayne State very nearly pulled off the upset, but this year The Rock didn’t even give them a shot. They rolled to a 42-10 victory, and Noah Grover showed off the connections he had built during the summer.
The Rock traveled east for their next two games. The first was a rematch of the 2018 PSAC title game against West Chester. Four years ago, they dismantled The Rock in the title game. That was The Rock’s last PSAC loss until the middle of the 2021 season.
Kyle Sheets showed what he can do. After learning under the likes of Cinque Sweeting, Jermaine Wynn Jr. and his hometown friend, Henry Litwin, it was his turn to be the number one threat. He recorded four receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown in a 35-14 win.
The next week it was Sheets and newcomer, Jacob Odom, who were able to tear apart the Millersville defense. Sheets and Odom combined for 11 receptions, 209 yards and three touchdowns. It was enough to pull out a 45-14 and give The Rock a 3-0 start to the season.
That kind of start is what every team wants. Dominating is great, but doing it in every aspect of the game is another thing.
But the next week started the real gauntlet. The PSAC West schedule is known to be a grueling one. But out of all the teams in the West, there is one team that The Rock has circled, and that’s Indiana (Pa.).
Slippery Rock had just one conference game before they faced off against their bitter rival. It did not go the way that they planned it to, and the score was ugly, but a 4-0 start to season is something every team craves.
The next week came the real test. The Rock faced the task of going on the road to face IUP, who came to their house last year and flat out embarrassed them.
For Lutz, it did not leave his mind. Even though they were able to walk away with the PSAC West title in 2021, that loss made it harder than it should have been. He did not want to leave any doubt this time. But it seemed as if the weather and feel of the day from 2021 carried right over into 2022.
The rain did not stop all game and neither did self-inflicted wounds on Slippery Rock’s part. It was all too late for The Rock to make up for those mistakes, and for the second straight year, the Crimson Hawks walked out on top.
The margin for error tightened after the loss. Another loss likely would have meant the end of The Rock’s playoff hopes.
Just like the year before, they had to face both the teams from Erie after their loss. But it was a much easier task this year since they played from the comfort of home for both games.
Mercyhurst put a challenge again, but The Rock pulled out a win to get back in right column. That momentum carried for the rest of the season. A blowout win over Gannon on homecoming help them climb the region rankings.
The final three games of the PSAC West schedule were fairly easy wins for Slippery Rock, but Edinboro was able to give Slippery Rock a scare. They had a chance to steal the game late, but The Rock defense held up and Chris D’Or helped put away the contest.
The last week of the regular season saw Kutztown come to town and take a game from Slippery Rock. It made the playoffs less of a certainty, but one thing was for certain, they were not going to be able to play at home.
Slippery Rock went on the road for their first playoff game. The path was a difficult one. They had to go to Assumption in Massachusetts. Cohen Russell helped The Rock squeak out a 17-14 in their second game ever in the state.
But their season ultimately came to a close this past weekend when future NFL draft pick, Tyson Bagent, out dueled Grover and The Rock.
“Noah is a great football player, but he’s an even better person,” Lutz said. “He does it all academically and on the field, and we’re going to miss him.”
For Lutz though, the 2022 season may have just ended, but now the process starts all over again.
“We got a lot of guys returning, but we’re always going to bring in better competition,” Lutz said. “I’m never going to be satisfied until we win a national title, but we start fresh now and I just love the process.”