After overcoming an early 17 point deficit, Rock football came out on top against number five ranked California University of Pennsylvania 47-44, off a walk-off overtime field goal by sophomore kicker Jake Chapla on Saturday.
“Right away I was locked in, I said this game could come down to me,” Chapla said following his game winning kick. “You just gotta get yourself in the mind set that you’re going to make that kick.”
The win improves Slippery Rock’s record to a perfect 5-0 on the season, and 2-0 in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play, which lands them in second place in the PSAC West behind Indiana University (Pa). Coming in, the match-up favored The Rock’s passing attack which averages 341 yards a game, against a CalU passing defense that was surrendering an average of 303 yards a game.
“Two good football teams competing all night long,” CalU head coach Gary Dunn said. “They’re a good offense, they took advantage of the big plays and that’s what good football teams do.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Tanner Garry managed 268 yards through the air, completing 25 passes on 41 attempts for two touchdowns and an interception. The Green and White running game gained 138 yards and found the end zone four times between redshirt senior Isiah Neely and reshirt freshman Chacar Berry.
“I wanted the ball in my hands,” Neely said. “They were keying on our pass and I trusted us to run the ball.”
Early in the game, The Rock found themselves in a 17-0 hole with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter off a 49 yard touchdown pass, followed by a Garry interception returned for a touchdown, and a 34 yard field goal. The next four possessions saw both teams punt the ball twice, but then with just over six minutes to go in the second quarter, The Rock was able to get on the board off Neely’s first touchdown of the day from one yard out to cut the lead to 10.
“I thought there was a big improvement in the rushing game,” SRU head coach Shawn Lutz said after the game. “They were getting vertical and the backs were running hard.”
The Rock then got the final points of the half off a Chapla 42 yard field goal as time expired to make the score 17-10 CalU heading into halftime. CalU received the second half kick-off and was quickly forced to punt, giving the ball back to SRU. The Rock offense then drove the ball 60 yards on 10 plays, which was capped off by a five yard Garry touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Andrew Bridgeforth.
CalU wasted no time to respond as they scored a touchdown just two plays later the following possession off a two yard touchdown run. The following drive, The Rock drove the ball 68 yards on five plays which resulted in Neely’s second score of the evening from 14 yards out, but Chapla’s extra point to tie the game was blocked to make the score 24-23 CalU. On the first play of CalU’s next possession, junior defensive back Tavarus Sample forced a fumble, which was recovered by redshirt senior defensive end Marcus Martin on the CalU 13 yard line.
“These guys just find a way to come back,” Lutz said. “You really gotta give the defense credit. I thought the defense really improved from this past week.”
Three plays later Neely ran the ball in from five yards out to complete the hat-trick with his third touchdown to give the Green and White their first lead of the night 30-24 with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter. CalU got the ball back and was able to grind out a nine play 64 yard drive, taking 3:34 off the clock, but only managed a 38 yard field goal. SRU responded the following drive with a three plus minute drive of their own going 69 yards on eight plays that was capped off by a Berry 21 yard touchdown run to make the score 37-27 SRU with 12:55 left in the fourth.
On the next offensive play, The Rock seemed to put the game away as they got their second interception of the season from redshirt freshman linebacker Tim Vernick who returned the ball six yards to the CalU 28 yard line. The Rock was unable to score off the turnover and was forced to punt, which later resulted in a CalU touchdown five plays later of a one yard touchdown run to cut The Rock lead to four at 37-34.
“That was the most disappointing thing I thought about our offense,” Lutz said regarding not scoring off the Vernick interception. “You gotta try and find some points outta that pick cause if you get a touchdown or a field goal it’s hard to come back.”
California was then able to force a three an out on the next drive and score another touchdown just 2:16 seconds later to reclaim the lead 41-37. The following kick-off, senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson fumbled the ball on the return to give CalU the ball back at The Rock’s own 19-yard line. The Green and White defense was able to hold CalU to only a field goal to extend their lead to 44-37 with 2:14 left in regulation.
Garry was then able to take the offense down the field for a late touchdown pass to redshirt senior Milly Raye from 24 yards out, which allowed Chapla to tie the game at 44 on the extra point and send the game into overtime. SRU won the overtime coin toss and elected to go on defense first.
The Rock defense then was able to push CalU backwards when redshirt senior defensive end Marcus Martin recorded his second sack of the night, which forced a 48 yard field goal by CalU that missed wide left. The Rock then got the ball on offense starting at the CalU 25 and gained six yards on three plays to set up a Chapla 36 yard field goal attempt that went right down the middle to end the game and give the Green and White the win with the final score of 47-44.
“I didn’t even think twice about it,” Lutz said regarding Chapla before his game-winning kick. “When they missed that field goal, I knew we were winning the game because he (Chapla) doesn’t miss.”
Slippery Rock will look to continue their winning ways when they travel to Erie, Pa to take on Mercyhurst University (3-2) this coming Saturday with kick-off starting at noon.