On Saturday, things felt normal once again after so long. People were out enjoying Villagefest for the first time in two years, and when you walked in the stadium and looked at the crowd all you saw was a sea of white. The Rock was finally back to doing what it does well, which is putting up a ton of points and getting underclassmen some experience.
The annual white-out game kicked off at 6:00 pm and featured a crowd of 7,224 people. Right from the first kick, it was clear that things would go Slippery Rock’s way. The game started out with the Lock Haven returner, Adam DeGregorio, taking Kyle Butts kick. DeGregorio quickly took a knee, and unfortunately for The Bald Eagles he was two yards in front of the end zone.
After being forced to start from their two-yard-line, Lock Haven would have a six-play drive that would ultimately result in a net of five yards over almost four minutes of possession. The drive was stopped in its tracks by a Garrett de Bien sack, which forced a punt.
The Rock was able to do exactly what coach Shawn Lutz wanted on the offensive end with a quick strike score after a 31-yard punt return from Jermaine Wynn Jr. up Slippery Rock at the 16-yard line. Only four seconds came off the clock before Andrew Koester hit a wide-open Cinque Sweeting for the first touchdown of the game. The following extra point was missed by DJ Opsatnik.
“We did so much better, and when he doesn’t feel like he’s pressured like that, it makes a big difference,” Lutz said. “The offensive line in general did so much better in passing and running, we really challenged them this and they stepped up and did a great job.”
Coming into the game, one of Lutz’s biggest concerns was keeping Koester clean. The offensive line was able to that against The Bald Eagles and kept the pressure off of Koester. Without pressure on him, Koester was able to throw for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rock took the lead less than four minutes in and didn’t look back after. Slippery Rock took control of the ball again less than two minutes after their first score, and this time drove 79 yards over only about three minutes of action. Lutz mentioned wanting to get more people involved on offense and Koester was able to do that when he hit John Eakin for a 36-yard completion. The drive was capped off by a three-yard rush by Koester which resulted in a touchdown.
“We know we’re a great team and we just to go out and get on them, because we haven’t had a fast start yet in the first two games,” Lutz said. “We were able to do that tonight, but we still have so much work to do and we’ll continue to get better.”
Henry Litwin’s name is well-known both on and off campus. Litwin was on ESPN’s Sportscenter Top 10 segment just a few weeks ago because of his catch against Wayne State. He proved why he’s one of the best receivers in the country late in the first quarter, when he caught a pass over the top and took it the distance. The 72-yard touchdown put The Rock up 20-0, a lead that they would carry into the second quarter.
The second quarter started with Slippery Rock in the midst of what would be their longest drive of the game, spanning four minutes and 54 seconds. The Rock walked away with only three points on the drive though. Lock Haven would give the ball back fairly quickly to The Green and White, who in turn would march down the field again. The drive was highlighted by the 33-yard Tyler Settle touchdown reception and put The Rock up 30-0.
At the half, Slippery Rock walked in with that lead with 339 total yards and 261 of that coming through the air. The Rock defense held Lock Haven to only 49 total yards and Tim Vernick was in on seven tackles in the first half. The quick strike was on full effect in that first half, and the Rock started the game with five straight scoring drives.
This game against Lock Haven was also notable because it featured some players getting their first game experience of the season, like quarterback Noah Grover, who appeared in his first game at The Rock and in his first drive he connected with Kyle Sheets.
“It means a lot to me [being able to get the younger guys in], because that’s the future and when guys like Jermaine and I are gone, we still want to be able to come back and watch some good football,” Litwin said. “I want to give a special shout out to Kyle Sheets because we went to high school together and just to be able to see him score was pretty special.”
The Rock opened up the second half with four touchdowns and held a shut out up until late in the second half. The Bald Eagles finally scored on a late rushing touchdown from DeAndre Wakefield, who scored on a 95-yard run that helped them keep from being putting up nothing two straight weeks.
The Rock defense has shown their worth so far this season behind the leadership of Vernick and Chad Kuhn. If you take out the 95-yard run, Slippery Rock held Lock Haven to only 87 yards on their 56 other plays. While both Lutz and Vernick noted that it’s demoralizing to give up a late score that breaks the shut out, their play has been spectacular through the first three games.
The biggest takeaways for Lutz and the team were that they were able to keep Koester clean and move the ball fast, two things that they hope to continue to do. Lutz said getting other people involved was huge too because you never know when you could be needed to step in, so that experience is valuable.
The Rock will now begin their PSAC West gauntlet in Greensburg, where they will take on Seton Hill University. This will be their first official PSAC matchup since the PSAC championship in 2019.