Title time

SRU Coach Dr. George Mihalik and players celebrate winning the PSAC title.

SLIPPERY ROCK – Slippery Rock University head football coach Dr. George Mihalik finally got his first win over Bloomsburg University. And it couldn’t have come at a better time! The Rock claimed its 10th outright Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title by holding off the Huskies 28-26 Saturday afternoon at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium. Slippery Rock (9-2) has now won at least a share of 15 conference titles. “This win couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Mihalik, whose squad lost a six-point game to the Huskies in the PSAC title game a year ago. “They’ve been a thorn in our side. I think they know how we felt a year ago. They’re a great program and I’m proud that we beat the No. 1 team in the region and the No. 5 team in the country. Last year, they won it at the end. This year, we won it at the end.” SRU’s previous PSAC championship came in 2000. “We weren’t supposed to be here and once we got in, we weren’t supposed to beat the No. 5 team in the country, which we did,” Mihalik said. “I’m proud of our program to be here three out of the last four years. It was nice to finally play one of these at home and it was nice to finally win one of these.” The win also vaulted The Rock into the No. 5 spot in the Super Region 1 rankings and will travel to No. 4 seed West Chester (10-1) at noon Saturday. The winner will face No. 1 Concord in two weeks. “I’m not being a smart alec, but we should be there,” Mihalik said. “We should be in the national playoffs. We beat the No. 5 team in the country and No. 1 team in the region. What else do you have to do?” “This ranks at the top,” SRU linebacker Austin Miele said. “I think this is the first championship that I’ve ever won. I’ve never felt this way and I love playing with these guys. I’m glad we can end it with a championship. This is the highest I’ve been. This is the best feeling I’ve had playing football.” Slippery Rock nearly handed its visitors the game with five turnovers, including two in the second half that sunk potential scoring drives. “Those definitely hurt,” Mihalik said. “This could’ve been a bigger win for us. We obviously had the two turnovers down in the red zone, so it could’ve been bigger. But that didn’t happen and we found a way to win even with the four turnovers. “We made plays when we needed to. Our defense was super in the second half. I thought our offense carried us in the first half answering their scores and our defense carried the game in the second half. Put them together, it’s a team win.” The teams traded punches over the first two quarters with Slippery Rock taking a 7-0 lead on Leroy McClain’s 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jared Buck with 9:32 left in the first quarter. The Huskies answered with a Joe Parsnik 5-yard run with under six minutes later. Melvin German hauled in a slightly off target pass from Buck and went 74 yards for a 14-7 SRU advantage entering the second quarter. Bloomsburg answered 2:34 later with a Tim Kelly 1-yard run. Slippery Rock went up 28-14 with 6:19 remaining before halftime on a Teddy Blakeman 1-yard run and a Buck 19-yard scamper around the right side of the SRU line. The visitors cut into the deficit with a Braden Drexler 25-yard field goal with :07 left before the break. “Playing them two years in a row, we kind of had an idea of what they were going to do against our pass and run game,” Buck said. “We just tried to go out there and take what they gave us. If they gave us the bubble, we’d take it. If they gave us the run up the middle, we’d take it.” Slippery Rock had a chance to put the game away twice in the second half, but a fumble inside the Bloom 5 and an interception near the Huskie 8 doomed promising drives. Tomas Cabrera returned the interception 73 yards to the SRU 19 and three plays later, Bloomsburg was within 28-23 after Aaron Allison pulled in a Kelly pass from 15 yards out. The Rock coughed up the football on its ensuing possession, which gave the Huskies the short field to work and resulted in a 44-yard Drexler field goal to cut the deficit to two. Bloomsburg missed a chance to take its first lead of the game moments later when Drexler’s 40-yard field goal attempt with 6:42 sailed wide left. SRU only managed to chew up 3:35 of clock on its next drive when Blakeman was inches short on a fourth-and-two at the Huskie 40. Bloomsburg picked up 24 yards on an aerial from Kelly to Lawrence Elliot Jr., but four straight incompletions handed the ball back to The Rock with just 134 seconds left. “The whole drive I kept thinking ‘This could be it. This could be it,’ ” SRU cornerback Admire Carter said. “We were all dog tired, but we dug deep and found that little bit of energy to get through it. At that point in time, you have to get into a different mindset. You have to get into an overly cocky Richard Sherman type mindset. The love and bond that we have teammates motivated us.” Shamar Greene paced the Slippery Rock offense with 116 yards rushing on 21 totes against the conference’s best defense. Buck – who left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a concussion – completed 17-of-27 passes for 256 yards and a pair of scores, while rushing for another 59 yards. Jaimire Dutrieuille pulled in seven passes for 75 yards, while German had five grabs for 94. “We stayed focused,” Greene said. “We came into the game knowing that no one expected us to win and no one expected us to move the ball on them. They had the best defense or whatever it was. We just came out and did our jobs. We just executed.” Defensively for The Rock, Isaiah Coleman and Miele equally split 24 tackles, while Derrick Fulmore had an interception return for 33 yards. “Everyone just stepped up collectively,” Miele said. “We knew our careers were on the line. We knew we had to come up with the big stop. Our offense gave us enough points in the first half and we knew if we could shut them out in the second half that we’d get the ‘W.’ ” Bloomsburg (10-1) managed just 144 yards on the ground against the Slippery Rock defense, while Kelly completed 21-of-42 passes for 293 yards. “We’re blessed, man,” Greene said. “It’s all about inner strength. If you keep moving, anything’s possible. This win is a blessing.” NOTES: The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak against Slippery Rock for the Huskies. SRU last beat Bloomsburg in 1983. … The Rock is 5-4 all-time in PSAC title games with the previous wins coming in 1972-74 over West Chester and a victory over East Stroudsburg in 1962. … Bloomsburg was attempting to become the first repeat PSAC Championship game winners since Indiana defeated West Chester in 1986 and 1987. … Greene became just the second running back to surpass the 100-yard mark against the Huskies. … SRU had 29 first downs to Bloomsburg’s 25.

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