The Rocket

Rock football looks for more consistency on defense this week against Shippensburg

Senior+running+back+Wes+Hills+attempts+to+cross+the+ball+over+the+goal+line+to+tie+the+game%2C+but+ultimately+fumbled+the+ball+in+The+Rock%27s+38-31+home+win+over+Kentucky+State+University+this+past+Saturday.+
Senior running back Wes Hills attempts to cross the ball over the goal line to tie the game, but ultimately fumbled the ball in The Rock's 38-31 home win over Kentucky State University this past Saturday.

Senior running back Wes Hills attempts to cross the ball over the goal line to tie the game, but ultimately fumbled the ball in The Rock's 38-31 home win over Kentucky State University this past Saturday.

Paris Malone

Paris Malone

Senior running back Wes Hills attempts to cross the ball over the goal line to tie the game, but ultimately fumbled the ball in The Rock's 38-31 home win over Kentucky State University this past Saturday.

Stephen Cukovich, Sports Editor

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Rock football will hit the road for the first time this season when the team travels to Shippensburg University (1-0) on Saturday with a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.

The meeting marks the first matchup between the two programs in five years dating back to 2013 when the Green and White topped the Raiders 58-38 at home.  Like The Rock, Shippensburg is also coming off a game where they drastically outscored their opponent in the second half as they put up 28 points against Clarion University (0-1) in the final 30 minutes of play.

“The difference in that game too with our football team, you can tell they (Kentucky State) ran out of gas,” SRU head football coach Shawn Lutz said.  “I thought we were a better-conditioned football team and you could tell on defense a couple times they couldn’t get in a stance.”

Last week for The Rock was capped off by a 21-point comeback in the second half as they outscored Kentucky State University (0-1) 31-3 in the final 34 minutes of the game.  Junior quarterback Andrew Koester made his first collegiate start as he tossed the ball for 272 yards and three touchdowns through the air, along with 87 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.

Senior running back Wes Hills made his first start for The Rock after transferring from Deleware State University this past offseason.  Hills ran the ball 21 times for 164 yards and a touchdown, but coach Lutz believes there is more to Hills than him just running the ball.

“Yeah the thing about it he [Hills] can catch the ball too out of the backfield,” Lutz said.  “He probably has the best hands and he’s a bigger guy so that is one thing we are going to expand a little bit.  He’ll be a check down in the passing game when things break down just get him over the middle with the ball and if he catches the ball for three yards then he can take off and run.”

During the second half last week, The Rock defense was able to tighten things up after giving up 28 first-half points to the Thorobreds.  Things do look up even more with the addition of junior linebacker Brad Zaffram, a transfer this offseason from Lackawanna College who will get his first start in a green and white uniform this Saturday.

“You know what he [Zaffram] makes a big difference,” Lutz said.  “I’m basing this on the spring and that, but he’s probably our best football player on defense…he’s just a playmaker.”

Last week against KYSU, The Rock defense put up a staggering 17 tackles for loss, which through week one is the most tackles for loss in the country by a Division II program.  Those tackles for loss starts up front with the defensive line with redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Wilford Clark who recorded three tackles for loss last week.  Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jeff Marx made a day of his SRU debut as he lead the team in total tackles on Saturday with eight, two of those tackles for losses.  On the flip side, the Green and White had 31 missed tackles in the game, with a majority of those happening on four individual plays.

“Isn’t it crazy,” Lutz said.  “You would look at the defense they totally stopped in the game. I felt that way after the game regardless of the situation I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but you cannot argue with the defense in the second half.”

Looking into Shippensburg this week, their offense is highlighted by young talent in 2017 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Freshman of the Year receiver Winston Eubanks who caught four passes last week for 161 yards and one touchdown. At the helm of the offense sits freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina who went 22 of 35 last week for 348 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first career collegiate start.

“We’re going to look back I think at the end of our season and say there are certain games that are critical and this is one,” Lutz said.  “We’re going to find out where our football team is, we’re going to be tested right off the bat.  It’s not easy to win at Ship, they probably have the second best game day atmosphere behind ours.”

The Rock owns a 40-21-2 overall record against Shippensburg in the series which dates back to 1924.  The 64th edition of the series will take place on Saturday at Seth Grove Stadium in Shippensburg, Pa. with kickoff set for 1:00 p.m.

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Rock football looks for more consistency on defense this week against Shippensburg