It’s not every day that there is a winner-take-all regular season game, but that’s exactly what there is this Saturday when California University of Pennsylvania (Cal-U) comes to town. This time around, The Rock is an underdog.
“They’re good, respect is there and they’re undefeated and third in the country, so we’ve definitely got to play a very sound game to win,” Rock Football Head Coach Shawn Lutz said.
The last time the two met in 2019, The Rock won 31-28. Since then, a lot has happened. Among the players in that game was Jamain Stephens, who passed away last year. Now in their first season without him, Cal-U is ranked No. 3 in the nation and walks into a matchup with the reigning PSAC champions hoping to punch their ticket to the championship game.
This weekend will see The Rock’s large senior class play what may be the final home game of their careers. They’ll walk into this game looking to go to a third straight PSAC title game.
The loss to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) seemed to be deflating, but Lutz knew that a couple of road games could be good for the team. Two weeks featured two trips to Erie, and some changes were made. Now Noah Grover will start his second career game against the No. 3 team in the nation. The trips to Erie also saw the return of Evyn Holtz. He recorded 109-yards on the ground against Gannon University last week.
It’ll be the battle of Noah’s this week when Vulcan’s quarterback Noah Mitchell leads Cal-U into the biggest matchup of this season. It’ll be a tough task for The Rock defense to stop Mitchell, who has been red hot as of late. The Rock defense has only given up an average of around 133-yards through the air this season, but Mitchell has been dominant this season and with only eight games played after the game against Clarion University of Pennsylvania was canceled, he’s put up 2,565-yards and 22 touchdowns through the air.
“They’ve got the number one pass offense in the country, and we just can’t give up the big plays, and if we can do that I like our chances,” Lutz said. “Their quarterback Noah Mitchell is as hot as can be, he’s on fire right now, so we’ve got to be able to get pressure on the quarterback early and often to be able to help our cause.”
Slippery Rock found their own air attack that had been missing for a few weeks against Gannon with the emergence of Grover. With a school record eight touchdown passes, Grover made his impact felt against a Gannon team that took IUP to the wire. The 63 points The Rock put up were the second most points they’ve put on the board this season.
While The Rock may be walking into this matchup as the underdog, they’ll have the home advantage in this game. The home advantage may be one of the best in all of Div. II. The Rock usually has around 8,000 fans in the stands for home games, and with a title game berth on the line, that can likely be expected to be no different. The biggest crowd Cal-U has played a game in front of this season was on the road at IUP.
“This could be the last home game for these seniors, who have sacrificed so much and it’s senior day, so we need to get those rock rowdies going and we like to be home,” Lutz said. “But we’ve got to play our game and focus on us every play, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter just move on to the next play.”
In this game, more than those before, it will be extremely important to get the playmakers involved. Last week, The Rock did a good job spreading the ball around with Kyle Sheets, Cinque Sweeting, Jermaine Wynn Jr., Henry Litwin, Evyn Holtz, Tim Smith, Chris D’or and Max Maciejewski all getting touches.
“We’ve got to get the ball out quick, with the playmakers we have on offense,” Lutz said. “They have one of the top defenses and they’re going to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and they’re extremely hot as a defensive unit so we just need to get the ball out quick and not turn it over.”
This is what all season has led to. A win sends Slippery Rock to their third straight PSAC title game at Kutztown University. Everything is on the line this week at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium. This one is truly for all the marbles.