When The Rock makes the nearly two hour drive to Gannon University this weekend, a lot will be on the line. Most importantly they’ll be playing for the opportunity to host what would serve as a PSAC West championship game against California University of Pennsylvania (Cal-U) next weekend.
First comes the test of a Gannon team that will be playing its fourth ranked team this year. Three of The Golden Knight’s four losses are against teams that have been ranked in the top 25. They lost to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) by just five points. Now they face a test against No. 15 Slippery Rock.
For Slippery Rock they will try to get their offense back in form. In the past two weeks they’ve only put up 41 points and last week they had four turnovers that kept Mercyhurst University in the game. The biggest one came on a fumble that was returned for a touchdown that put The Rock down 14-7.
“We’ve got to stop turning over the football, we were lucky to pull out the win at Mercyhurst because we had six fumbles, and sure we didn’t lose all of them, but we need to stop turning the ball over,” Coach Shawn Lutz said.
The Rock’s offense has shown what it’s capable of multiple times this season, with an example being the game against Seton Hill University. After an early interception, the Green and White took over the game and Henry Litwin had three receiving touchdowns, while Jermaine Wynn Jr. had two. Litwin, was also just named a finalist for the William V. Campbell trophy along with the likes of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, Stanford defensive end Thomas Booker and ten others.
The big three of Litwin, Wynn and Cinque Sweeting have combined for 1,562 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Now the trio faces what could possibly be their final regular season away game.
It’s been extremely important to get the ball into the playmaker’s hands the entire season, and it’s to be expected of The Rock against Gannon. Lutz wants them to fast start and doesn’t want them to look back.
“I think we’ve got to start fast against them, because they’re a young team, but they’re dangerous,” Lutz said. “They only lost by five points to IUP and they won this past Saturday against Edinboro, and their running back ran for over 250-yards.”
A big key in the game is going to be stopping Gannon’s running back Melvin Blanks. Blanks is looking to go over 1,000-yards rushing this season against a Rock defense that has allowed around 135-yards on the ground per game.
On the flip side, The Rock still wants to get their running game going. With Evyn Holtz back, Slippery Rock still only put up 95-yards on the ground against The Lakers, but Holtz showed how explosive he can be. That’s something they’ll need in a game that is expected to be very wet.
“It’s going to rain, it’s going to pour, and we don’t want our skill guys on offense wearing gloves anymore, because they get slick when they’re wet,” Lutz said. “We’ve just got to think it’s going to rain 50 straight days.”
In the rain, any passing attack struggles. For the past two weeks, Slippery Rock has played in wet games and the passing game hasn’t been able to get going, with the only big play being the 42-yard Henry Litwin receiving touchdown.
Even eight games into the season, Lutz still thinks this team has some room to grow.
“I still think we haven’t peaked at our best, and I still don’t think we’ve played a complete game,” Lutz said. “I’m not saying Mercyhurst is a great team, but I don’t think they’re bad, and Gannon is better than Mercyhurst, so we need to come out and play a complete game in all three phases.”
There’s no better time to play a complete game than tomorrow for The Rock. With the opportunity to play Cal-U for the third straight PSAC title game appearance on the line, the game against Gannon almost becomes a playoff game. Win or lose, The Rock will return home for senior day next week, but first they’ll look to take care of business in Erie.