Rivalry atmosphere. Every player locked in. The Rock football squad wearing all black uniforms. The stands packed with black shirts in accordance with the game theme. It was everything an SRU vs. IUP game should be.
“It’s one of the best crowds I’ve seen at The Rock,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said.
Indiana University (Pa.) came to town on Saturday to face a rival they had not lost to in two years. The Rock denied their streak from continuing to the tune of a 42-21 victory.
“You think we really wanted to beat IUP? Look what we brought out. We’ve never worn all black before, that’s how seriously we took this game,” Lutz said.
Khalid Dorsey and the offensive line got to work early. Dorsey ripped off a 26-yard run on the first drive en route to setting the ball up at the 1-yard line for an Isaiah Edwards touchdown. The Rock’s air-raid offense was flexing its muscle in the ground game.
“That’s a big advantage to us, having an experienced offensive line,” Lutz said.
SRU’s strong running back group had already made their presence known as well.
“We’ve got the running backs. I think Khalid on his very first carry of the night hit the hole and ran a guy over,” right guard Nick Stazer said. “We’re together and setting the tone together.”
The defense got the memo, too, forcing a punt on IUP’s ensuing drive.
That is how the game went for the first five drives with Khalid Dorsey and Brayden Long scoring rushing touchdowns in the process to make it 21-0. The streak ended on the sixth drive.
IUP was driving for a score and got all the way down to SRU’s 10-yard line when free safety Selvin Hayes jumped an out-route in the back left of the end zone for an interception.
The Rock offense picked up right where they left off. This time, Cohen Russel caught a beautiful throw over the middle by Long for 38 yards to catalyze the touchdown drive. Isaiah Edwards scored again and early in the second quarter it was 28-0.
“When our offense has the ability to do that with the playmakers they have and the offensive line that we have, it really makes you appreciate it and say, man, we’re thrilled to have those guys in our color jersey at the end of the day,” linebacker Kyle Kudla said.
The Crimson Hawks’ rushing attack was able to punch back going 19 and 25 yards on the next drive. A stretch of Dayjure Stewart rushes later and IUP was in the end zone, but they missed the extra point.
The game fizzled into halftime, but coming out of the break SRU’s offense was right back at it after an interception by cornerback Josh Stokes got them the ball. This time, the score came in the form of Dorsey accelerating past defenders for a one-play, 45-yard touchdown. 35-6 Slippery Rock.
Dorsey would finish with an electric stat line of 123 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. He credits the offensive line, although his own talent is obvious to those who watch.
“It’s easy running behind those guys,” Dorsey said. “They make it easy for us.”
Dorsey was not tackled for loss a single time all night, a testament to his play and the consistency of The Rock’s offensive line the whole night.
“We’ve got good runningbacks, we’ve got a good offensive coordinator, we’ve got a good quarterback. They make it easy for us. You’ve just gotta block your guy,” Stazer said.
Just as SRU was starting to run the clock a little with the big lead though, IUP’s offense started to pick it up.
Multiple dynamic plays by Crimson Hawk quarterback Karst Hunter lead to back-to-back scores, including a 2-point conversion, to bring IUP back within 14 points at 35-21.
“He does a great job running and extending plays,” Lutz said about the opposing QB.
They were a stop and a score from crawling all the way back to a one-score game, but that is when the leading team needs their stars like Kyle Sheets to show up and regain the momentum.
“Toward the end of the second quarter they started doubling him, they started bringing the safety over. Then when we got up, they had to load the box and had to one-on-one him again. When they did that, we were just gonna take it,” Lutz said.
On a first down near midfield, IUP needed a stop right then and there for any hope. Sheets denied their wish with a 40-yard reception down to the IUP 8-yard line. The next play saw Dorsey run in his third touchdown of the night to make it 42-21 after Kevin Roberts made his final extra point.
Sheets finished with five receptions for 131 yards. As noted by Lutz in postgame, it was not just the yardage totals but the magnitude and timing of the plays he made.
“All those catches were big,” Lutz said. “Brayden threw that last one and hit him and it was the icing on the cake.”
With just over 6 minutes left, The Rock’s defense was able to salt the game away by forcing a turnover on downs and getting on last interception for good measure, this time by Eddie Faulkner IV. One kneel later it was over.
“IUP is a good football team. When you sign up to play football at Slippery Rock you sign up for good games like that,” Kudla said.
Slippery Rock winning the turnover battle 3-0 played a large role in the victory. Despite not throwing any touchdowns, Long was still quite effective and once again demonstrated his ability to throw and protect the ball. The junior threw for 277 yards on 23 attempts.
“They threw three interceptions, Brayden Long threw zero interceptions,” Lutz said. “Defensively, we got three interceptions, what are you gonna say? They got after it, they got after it in the run game too.”
The Rock had 137 more yards of total offense, ran more plays on offense and averaged more yards per play.
“I thought we were dominant in all three phases of the game,” Lutz said.
It was a conference game, SRU was protecting an undefeated record, they had not beaten IUP in either of the past two seasons, and they wanted to defend their #12 ranking in the American Football Coaches Association poll. It was, by all accounts, a very important game regardless of the opponent.
It helps to do it against your biggest rival, though, and it meant something to everyone.
“I don’t think it’s different than what Michigan and Ohio State feels. You want to have a good year, you’ve got to beat IUP,” Lutz said.
Team chemistry is a theme that keeps getting brought up, and for good reason. The cohesion of this SRU football squad is a notable part of what keeps them playing so well in all phases.
“This team has a really unique bond and a really unique brotherhood that I would like to put up against any other locker room right now in the country,” Kudla said. “It’s so hard to beat guys that are willing to go to battle for each other in all three phases and play complementary football.”
The team continuing to bond and play complementary football is a great sign, but Lutz wants to make sure they retain focus.
“We can enjoy this tonight, maybe a little bit tomorrow, then we’ve got to get back to work,” Lutz said.
Slippery Rock was moved up to #10 in the AFCA poll following the game and will travel to face Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. next Saturday to defend their undefeated record.