Slippery Rock University Football lives to fight another day as they are set to take on No. 13 Long Island University Post (10-0) on Saturday for round one of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“If you would have asked me that I expect to be in the National Playoffs this year, that’s our goal, but realistically we just had so many unknowns,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said. “We had a bad defense the year before. Offensively we were losing firepower everywhere.”
The Rock is making their fourth National Playoff appearance in six years after winning the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West with a 9-2 overall record and a perfect 7-0 record in western divisional play. SRU last made the NCAA playoffs in 2015 when the team went 12-2 overall reaching the quarterfinals.
LIU Post comes out of the East Coast Conference Northeast led by veteran coach Bryan Collins who has compiled a 160-71 overall record in his 21 years at the helm of the Pioneers.
“[LIU] is not going to beat themselves,” Lutz said. “There is not a team we played this year that is so well coached in all phases of the ball. They’ve got tremendous special teams. They don’t turn over the football. They create turnovers. They don’t make mistakes.”
SRU is coming off just their second loss of the season to West Chester University (10-0) last week in the PSAC Championship 10-33. Junior quarterback Roland Rivers III entered last week 8-0 as a starter after taking over the No. 1 quarterback position in week three. Rivers has established himself as a dual threat quarterback in both the passing and running game, but in the past two games, Rivers has only compiled 28 rushing yards and just three touchdowns through the air.
“[Rivers] is a rhythm quarterback. He gets going and he gets hot, doesn’t he?” Lutz said. “The thing I think Roland needs to do this week if it’s not there: two things. Throw the ball freaking away, let’s play another down, and just take off and run […] When you got God-given ability with your feet, go out and take off, get a first down.”
Senior running back Wes Hills has been on fire as of late rushing for 200 plus yards in three straight games heading into last week with eight touchdowns in that span. In total, Hills has rushed for 1,205 yards in just nine total starts, landing him third in the PSAC in that category.
Rock junior kicker Jake Chapla was named PSAC West Special Teams Athlete of the Week for the fifth time this season. Chapla earned that honor after tying the SRU career field goal record at 35 when he nailed a 32-yard field goal last week against West Chester.
“It’s just outstanding. Western Pennsylvania kid doing that with the rich history of all the kickers we’ve had,” Lutz said of Chapla’s record-tying field goal. “And also doing it because the weather around here is terrible, but Jake has just been consistent. It’s awesome that he’s first team All-Conference kicker and second team All-Conference punter. It’s just outstanding, so hopefully he can break the record on Saturday.”
Last week, West Chester quarterback A.J. Long ran the ball 30 times on The Rock defense for a total of 135 yards which rose their opponent run average to 101.5 yards per game. The Rock still ranks No. 10 in the nation in tackles for loss averaging 8.9 per game, while still ranking 14th in red zone defense allowing opponents to score on just 66.7 percent of their red zone trips.
“I think we were the hottest team in Division II football, then we ran into West Chester where we just played bad,” Lutz said. “Maybe that’s what the team needed. We got a second life, and we were 50/50 if we’re going to get into the National Playoffs and I really want to see how this team comes back.”
LIU Post is currently on a seven-game home winning streak and is 19-3 at home since the beginning of the 2015 season. The Pioneers rank seven in the nation in defensive turnover margin (+1.4), while ranking No. 10 in the nation in run defense allowing just 93.7 rushing yards per game to opposing teams.
Pioneers’ quarterback Chris Laviano, a transfer from Division I Rutgers University is completing 60 percent of his pass attempts for 2,536 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Laviano likes to spread the ball to his receivers as he has helped seven of his receivers reach double-digit catches including Michael Richardson who has racked up 47 catches for 628 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“[LIU] has one guy that is talented that I would say is the best quarterback throwing the football I’ve seen in three years,” Lutz said. “[Laviano] started at Rutgers 18 games. There is not a throw he can’t make.”
The Rock and Long Island have met a total of just three times coming into Saturday’s matchup, with the last meeting coming in 2010 when the Pioneers defeated the Green and White 42-38. Kick off is set for noon on Saturday in Brookville, N.Y. at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium.