By Patrick Connelly/Sports Editor
— There’s another pair of tough games on tap today for the two local NCAA football squads.
At 2 p.m., Slippery Rock welcomes California (Pa.) in a battle of 5-1 teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference that will likely decide the winner of the Western Division.
At 7 p.m., Grove City travels to Beaver Falls to take on rival Geneva. The Wolverines, after a setback last week against the Presidents’ Athletic Conference’s top team on Thomas More, will look to rebound with their first win of the season at the hands of the Golden Tornadoes.
Here’s a look at the two games:
- CALIFORNIA (5-1) AT SLIPPERY ROCK (5-1) - The seventh game of the slate has been crossroad of sorts the past two seasons for Slippery Rock.
Head coach George Mihalik’s team eased to the same mark in 2009 and 2010, only to close both campaigns with 1-4 runs. A meeting with head coach John Luckhardt’s California team came in the seventh game last season, with the Vulcans getting the best of the Rock 28-3 on the way to their run to the Division II playoffs.
Despite having one of the most versatile running backs in D-II at his disposal in Akeem Satterfield, Mihalik is the first to admit Slippery Rock’s offense hadn’t been as potent as it is now with Connecticut transfer Cody Endres under center.
Since taking over at quarterback to start the season at Slippery Rock, Endres has added a new dimension to the offense as he’s passed for 1,307 yards and nine touchdowns and quickly found a comfort level with many of the Rock receivers.
Senior Devin Goda has become his favorite target, pulling in 40 passes from Endres for 485 yards and a trio of TDs.
Satterfield has continued to pace the offense, as well. Through the team’s first six games, the Erie native has picked up 506 yards on 98 totes, averaging 5.2 yards a carry.
The most understated improvement of all, though, is the Slippery Rock defense, which currently sits atop the D-II standings, allowing only an average of 201 yards per game.
Luckhardt’s Vulcans, despite being in what some have termed a rebuilding year, shook off a 26-3 loss to St. Cloud to open the season to win their next five tilts.
The Vulcans, led by quarterback Peter Lalich, in those five wins have outscored opponents 190-64 and are coming off a 33-6 win last week over visiting Gannon.
Lalich, a junior, has passed for 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns after following Josh Portis as the commander of the offense.
Portis, now with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, had began his career at Florida on a roster that, at the time, included bother Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. He later transferred to Maryland and then to play for Luckhardt and help the Vulcans to back-to-back postseason trips.
A win today by Slippery Rock could help pave the way to a berth in the PSAC title game and make the team a virtual lock themselves for the D-II playoffs. Slippery Rock closes the season with Lock Haven, Mercyhurst, Gannon and C.W. Post. The PSAC title game would replace the final tilt versus C.W. Post.
The final Rock home game is at 1 p.m. on Oct. 29 versus Mercyhurst.
- GROVE CITY (0-5) at GENEVA (1-5) - After falling 37-7 last Saturday at Thomas More in Kentucky, the Wolverines are on the road once again for the showdown at Geneva.
Sophomore Brian Pell has taken over at quarterback after sharing time earlier in the year with senior Clayton Hall.
Hall, battling a knee injury, is expected to return at some point this season and it could make the Grove City offense a bit more dynamic if it happens to be tonight.
The versatile Hall, a wingback converted to signal-caller by head coach Chris Smith has the ability to improvise out of the Wolverine backfield should a play be broken up by opposing defenses.
Pell, who saw action last season as a true freshman, tends to stay more in the pocket but seems to be maturing by the outing. He’s developed a connection with fellow sophomore Anthony Ritchie that has turned Ritchie into Grove City’s leading receiver.
Geneva, meanwhile, mixes things up at quarterback as well. Sophomore Zack Hayward and junior Rocco Collavecchia share the spot in head coach Geno Demarco’s offense. Hayward has already passed the 1,000-yard passing mark on the season while throwing for six TDs.
Collavecchia, the former Shenango High standout who before transferring to Geneva had transferred from Kent State to Slippery Rock to run Mihalik’s offense in 2009, is the Golden Tornadoes leading rusher and has caught more passes than any other Geneva receiver (24). In all, Collavecchia’s contributed 827 yards this season to the Geneva offense.
Geneva enters tonight’s battle having lost last week in a 47-33 shootout with Waynesburg. A week earlier, though, the Golden Tornadoes topped St. Vincent 23-20 in Beaver Falls. St. Vincent has since surprised many with an upset of perennial PAC title contender Washington and Jefferson.