The Rocket

Rock football set to take on No. 11 Notre Dame College in third round of NCAA Playoffs

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Rock football set to take on No. 11 Notre Dame College in third round of NCAA Playoffs

Redshirt junior receiver Mike Merhaut runs down the sideline during The Rock's 48-7 home win over Gannon University.

Redshirt junior receiver Mike Merhaut runs down the sideline during The Rock's 48-7 home win over Gannon University.

Paris Malone

Redshirt junior receiver Mike Merhaut runs down the sideline during The Rock's 48-7 home win over Gannon University.

Paris Malone

Paris Malone

Redshirt junior receiver Mike Merhaut runs down the sideline during The Rock's 48-7 home win over Gannon University.

Stephen Cukovich, Sports Editor

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After traveling 1,700 miles for the first two rounds of the NCAA Playoffs, SRU football is set to make a much shorter ride to No. 11 Notre Dame College of Ohio on Saturday.

“I feel like sometimes when we get away from home with less distractions, we can focus as a group,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said. “We spend a lot of time together and I think that bonds the team a little bit and brings us closer to each other and, with this group in particular, they like it. They like the people yelling and screaming at them, calling them names. They don’t back down.”

If The Rock were to win on Saturday, it would be the farthest SRU has gotten in the NCAA Playoffs in the program’s history. The Rock was 0-6 in road playoff games heading into this season’s bracket, but after back to back road wins the past two weeks, SRU is 7-6 all-time in the playoffs.

Last week, the Green and White cruised to 39 point win over the University of New Haven as they scored touchdowns on their first six offensive possessions in the game. Junior quarterback Roland Rivers III was able to bounce back after two subpar games as he completed 18 of 24 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers was also able to get back to running the ball if things weren’t there in the passing game as he managed 34 yards on the ground, racking up 4.9 yards per carry.

“All we did was tell [Rivers], ‘Do what we ask you to do.’ You don’t have to make every single play,” Lutz said.  “If there is nothing there, just take off and run. That’s what we want him to do. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.”

All eyes will be on the running back matchup this week with Rock senior running back Wes Hills against Division II leading rusher Jaleel McLaughlin. Hills is currently 42 rushing yards shy of the SRU single-season rushing record at 1,601 yards set by LaMonte Coleman in 1994. To add to the hysteria, Hills has only participated in 10 full games this season after playing only the first series in week two and missing weeks three and four due to injury.  With just 227 rushing attempts on the season, Hills hasn’t even cracked the top 10 list for single-season carries with 25 carries shy of making the list.

“Wes Hills is a legitimate NFL prospect,” Lutz said. “He shouldn’t be playing at this level. He’s a man among boys. He’s just bigger, faster, stronger than anybody he faces and this time of the year when it’s bad out, we’re just going to keep feeding him the football.”

True freshman McLaughlin leads Division II in rushing yards with 2,074 yards while carrying the ball a staggering 310 times this season in 12 games played.

“When you look at who wins this game, just look at Wes Hills’ stats and look at McLaughlin’s stats,” Lutz said. “Look at those stats and if one has more than the other, that is probably who wins on Saturday.”

Falcon’s redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Brimm has completed 56 percent of his passes this season for 2,128 yards with 21 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Receiver Marvelle Ross leads the team in catches with 67 giving him 1,013 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Punting has proven difficult for Notre Dame (Oh.) this season as they rank No. 162 in the nation in net punting with an average punt of 26.5 yards. With The Rock returning game firing up the past few weeks, SRU is due for their first touchdown return of the season.

This week marks the first all-time meeting between the two football programs, with this being just the tenth season Notre Dame (Oh.) has had a football team. Kickoff is set for noon this Saturday at Mueller Field in South Euclid, Ohio.

“The motto we’ve been using is we don’t get the respect, we’re not in the top 25,” Lutz said.  “I don’t really care about that stuff, but, to be honest with you, our guys do and it means nothing. But I think it adds extra motivation. Why not us? Why not now?”

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Rock football set to take on No. 11 Notre Dame College in third round of NCAA Playoffs