The No. 14 ranked Slippery Rock University football team (5-0) gained sole possession of first place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division with a win over Gannon University (4-1) last Saturday.
SRU defeated Gannon 31-28. This was the smallest margin of victory for the Rock this season.
They haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 26 points, and they’ve beaten opponents by an average of 24 points.
“Any time you have two undefeated teams and sole possession of first place is up for grabs, you like winning those kinds of games,” SRU head coach George Mihalik said. “We knew it was going to be a tough football game, and I liked the character and the mental toughness of our team.”
Gannon led SRU 20-17 going into halftime. This was the first time, since the first game of the season, in which the Rock didn’t have the lead at halftime.
“I think that it was a quiet confidence and a non-panic situation,” Mihalik said. “We discussed that we’ve been there before, and we knew that if we focused and played our game in the second half, we could win.”
The Rock opened up the second half scoring with a blocked punt by junior linebacker Sam Funk.
Junior wide receiver Nick Davis recovered the blocked punt, and took it into the end zone for a touchdown.
“Any big play on special teams is a game changer, and Sam Funk did a great job of getting through and blocking that punt, and it gave us all the momentum at that point,” Mihalik said. “Nick Davis was in position to scoop and score. It’s nothing other than executing what we do in practice.”
SRU’s other second half touchdown came from sophomore running back Shamar Greene, who ran it into the end zone for one yard.
SRU sophomore quarterback Zack Newsock passed for 219 yards (17-25) for one touchdown and one interception.
“Gannon tried to crowd the line of scrimmage and control our running game,” Mihalik said. “I thought that we had some plays there in the pass game where we just didn’t make plays. A few times, the ball wasn’t on target, receivers couldn’t make catches, and that changes the whole complexion of the game.”
Mihalik said he’s used to his team making the correct plays, but Saturday night against Gannon was different.
“In previous weeks we made those plays, but on Saturday night, we didn’t,” Mihalik said. “Fortunately, we made enough to win the game.”
SRU senior wide receiver Melvin German caught Newsock’s only touchdown pass. German caught two passes for 90 yards, but was then forced to leave the game with a pulled hamstring.
“I like the chemistry between Melvin and Zack, and he’s definitely a big play type of guy,” Mihalik said. “He caught two long passes and then pulled his hamstring, that’s why he wasn’t able to play for the rest of the game.”
The Rock’s running game scored two touchdowns, with one coming from Greene and the other from senior running back Teddy Blakeman. Greene and Blakeman rushed for 88 yards and 54 yards respectively. Those are the lowest totals from either running back in a game this season.
“As long as we get touchdowns, whether it’s on the ground or in the air, that’s what matters,” Mihalik said.
SRU junior kicker Mike Wainauskis kicked one fieldgoal for 26 yards.
The Rock defense had another collective-effort game, including 20 defenders with at least one tackle.
Senior defensive back Isaiah Coleman and freshman defensive end Marcus Martin had nine tackles each.
Junior defensive tackle Avery Anderson had seven tackles.
Gannon junior quarterback Liam Nadler passed for 370 yards (30-50) with two touchdowns and one interception. Nadler also rushed 17 times for 88 yards.
Gannon’s running game scored two touchdowns and rushed for 189 yards total.
Junior running back Brock Jones rushed 14 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought we did a great job controlling their running game,” Mihalik said. “When you do that and force a team to pass, they’re going to get yards. If they know they can’t run and they have to throw the ball, you can’t get upset by a high number of passing yards.”
Mihalik said his team has a great chemistry, and they know that if they keep doing their job, every phase will be productive.
The Green and White’s next game is against Mercyhurst University (1-4) on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Michigan at Michigan Stadium for the “Big House Battle” event.
This year, the “Big House Battle” is the 35-year anniversary of the first time that SRU played in Ann Arbor.