In college football, there are rivalries that are synonymous with the game overall. When you think Div. I, you think Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Oklahoma-Texas, etc. But in Div. II, it’s hard to find a rivalry that’s better than Slippery Rock-Indiana (Pa.).
This rivalry goes much deeper than football. Once you enroll in a school it becomes a way of life. If you go to Slippery Rock, the dislike for IUP becomes part of who you are. In this area, there are so many people who have ties to one of the schools. Even IUP’s head coach, Paul Tortortella, changed allegiances. Tortorella, who is in his fifth season as head coach of the Crimson Hawks, isn’t the only person to do so, and won’t be the last.
After any game between the two schools, there is a wildly different feeling on each side. Walking away on the losing side is crushing, but the sense of accomplishment and school pride after a win is like no other.
If any example is needed, all that needs to be done is to take a look at last year’s game.
Slippery Rock walked in undefeated through six games, and the Crimson Hawks came into the game with only one loss, but it wasn’t a conference loss. Because of that, they were both tied with California (Pa.).
From the first whistle, the game didn’t go as planned for The Rock. The rain was coming down and the first quarter was just a bunch of mishaps. Both teams were aggressive i as they both went for it on fourth down in opponents’ territory in the first quarter. It was IUP who drew first blood.
At the half, the Crimson Hawks carried a 24-7 lead. The Rock couldn’t get anything going. They were a team who scored 49 and 75 points in the two weeks prior. But IUP took advantage of everything in the game. They came into Slippery Rock and ruined homecoming with a 48-21 win over the green and white.
After the game, players from IUP’s team went into the middle of the field and started to stomp on The Rock’s signature “S.” They took the celebration even further. From the under bowls of the stands, music could be heard all the way to the East Lake parking lot.
The party didn’t stop. But it lasted a little too long. The Crimson Hawks dropped their next two games. In an embarrassing fashion, IUP, who had the fast track to winning the PSAC west after the win in Slippery Rock, fumbled a late lead against Cal U and followed it up with an upset loss to Edinboro. Both games were at home.
No one benefited from those losses more than Slippery Rock. The team that was so used to doing things on their own benefited from a bit of karma. The Crimson Hawks, who were riding high after the rivalry win, couldn’t finish things out.
Slippery Rock earned their third straight PSAC west crown just three weeks after their loss on the very same field. It’s one of the rare cases where the team who lost the matchup represented the PSAC west in the title game.
“I shared it with the guys, whoever wins this game is in the driver’s seat to representing the PSAC west in the title game,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said.
But that game has still sat with Slippery Rock. They haven’t forgotten the way that the Crimson Hawks acted after dismantling them on the field, Lutz said before the season even started. In any year, that game would be circled on the schedule. But this year it was circled, underlined and highlighted.
The loss hurt a little bit more because that loss was Slippery Rock’s first regular season loss in three years and their first PSAC west loss since Edinboro in 2017.
A big difference this year, however, is that the game is being played fairly early in the year. That’s something that doesn’t happen often when it comes to Slippery Rock and IUP.
“This is what you want, we usually don’t play them week five, it’s usually six or seven, but to be both be undefeated going into this game is great,” Lutz said. “But it is a rivalry game, and you can’t ignore that.”
The Rock will walk into George P. Miller Stadium on Saturday with that in the back of their heads, but even better, they’ll be going to the game almost completely healthy. That in general is really good news to have, but especially in a week like this.
Duane Brown is a name that will undoubtedly be heard over the loudspeaker at some point, but to Lutz, one of the biggest keys to winning the game is keeping the ball out of his hands. When it is in his hands, the goal is to make sure it’s not the big play.
“We’re not going to be able to stop Duane Brown, he’s going to get his catches, but we just can’t give him a lot of explosive touches,” Lutz said. “We’ve got to be able to maintain that.”
Don’t expect The Rock to do the same thing that the Crimson Hawks did last year if they’re to walk out with a win, though.
“We [will not do that kind of stuff], excuse my language but that’s chicken s–t stuff, just go out and win the game,” Lutz said. “How we’re treating this game is really about controlling us, they know it’s a big game, but we’ve got to be business-like and ignore the outside stuff.”
Lutz knows that there is going to be some back-and-forth stuff on the field but made it clear that his team will be respectful, whether they walk away with a victory or not.
“I get the hype of the rivalry and the jawing back and forth, we’re going to concentrate on the game, but I won’t tolerate [anything like what happened last year], I won’t let that happen,” Lutz. “Win or lose, we’ve always got to show good sportsmanship.”
A big part of that will be making sure to not take any unnecesary penalties. The Rock has done a good job with that through four games this season, but there will always be that worry when it comes to IUP. It’ll be a big key to success and may be the difference in the game.
“We’ve got to keep our composure, we can be physical and chippy, but we have to do it the right way,” Lutz.
The Rock will also look to hold onto the ball better than they did in their PSAC opener against Seton Hill last week. There were a lot of points that were left off the board due to three straight drives with turnovers in the game.
Lutz also feels that this is going to be the type of game that will be won in the trenches.
“The biggest matchup is going to be our O-line verus their D-line and vice versa, whoever can run the football will have the upper hand,” Lutz said.
After 350 days, The Rock and The Hawk will square off once again. For the 96th time, the two will meet. Questions will be answered, and on one side, a team will be able to bask in a win over their bitter rival for one year. On the other side, they’ll be thinking about what went wrong. One thing is for sure though, on both sides this game is personal.