The longest active home winning streak in Division II football belongs to Slippery Rock University after the 10th ranked Rock held off No. 19 Assumption College, 41-39, Saturday in the second round of the NCAA playoffs at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
The victory is the 17th straight at home for Slippery Rock and sends the team to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 1998. The Rock (12-1), seeded second in Super Region One, will travel to the region’s top seed, Shepherd, next Saturday to play for a spot in the national semifinals. Shepherd (11-0) rallied back to defeat Indiana (Pa.) 17-13 with a late TD Saturday.
Assumption, the third seed in the region, was making its first NCAA Division II playoff appearance and finishes the year with an 11-2 overall record.
It looked as if The Rock would cruise to the win when they scored less than two minutes into the second half to take a 34-12 lead, but Assumption battled back and controlled much of the final 25 minutes of play.
The Greyhounds cut the deficit to 34-19 with 10:27 to play in the third quarter before Slippery Rock responded again to take a 41-19 lead entering the fourth.
The fourth belonged to Assumption as the visitors rattled off 20 straight points, the last of which came in fourth down with 3:47 to play and cut the score to just 41-39. After both teams took a timeout, the two-point conversion pass was knocked away by Rock defensive back Titus Howard to keep it a two-point game.
Slippery Rock’s offense sputtered on the next series and Assumption got the ball back with just over two minutes to play near midfield. The Rock defense forced three incomplete passes to bring up a fourth and 10 with the game on the line. Howard made the play again, this time jumping a route and intercepting a pass that would seal the game after he returned it deep into Assumption territory.
The Rock defense finished the day with five turnovers and a 52-yard fumble return by Joe Phillips for a touchdown. It was the eighth defensive TD of the year for Slippery Rock. The defense has forced 11 turnovers through two playoff games after coming up with six takeaways last week against Virginia Union.
Assumption ran 91 plays and finished with a 520-444 advantage in total offense after throwing for 365 yards and rushing for 155. It marked the first time in more than a month that SRU has allowed more than 100 rushing yards in a game. Slippery Rock ran for 260 yards and threw for 184.
One of the most interesting storylines from the game was that Assumption managed to go the entire 60 minutes without a single penalty, while Slippery Rock was whistled for 13 penalties for 89 yards. Dating back to 2007, the last year individual game-by-game stats are available for SRU, no Rock opponent has finished with zero penalties in a game.
Shamar Greene led the offense with another big day, rushing for 160 yards and one touchdown and also catching a 21-yard pass. Greene suffered an undisclosed injury in the third quarter and did not play in the fourth quarter. He has now rushed for 314 yards and three TD in two playoff games this year and now has 1,476 yards this season, the third most in a single-season in school history, despite missing two full games and the second half of another earlier this year. Greene also moved up to No. 2 all-time in career rushing at SRU and now has 3,685 yards.
Isiah Neely added 67 yards on 16 carries and Dante Nania ran for 34 yards and one touchdown.
Nania completed 10-of-28 passes for 148 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has now thrown 11 TDs and no picks in the last three weeks. His three TD passes tie him for the single-season record at SRU with 30.
Cornelius Raye caught four passes for 33 yards and one touchdown, his eighth of the year and the seventh most in a single-season in program history. Jaimire Dutrieuille caught two passes for 59 yards and one TD, a 47-yarder, which was his 19th career TD and ranks as the third most in program history. Leroy McClain caught two passes for 31 yards and one TD and Brian McNally caught a 36-yard pass on a fake punt that was thrown from tight end Brett Crenshaw.
Derek Morgan led The Rock defense in tackles with 12. Cody Conway recorded nine tackles, one solo sack and forced the fumble that Phillips returned for a TD. Marcus Martin recorded seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one solo sack. Howard recorded six tackles, three pass breakups and the interception that sealed the game. He also broke up the two-point conversion pass, a stat that doesn’t show up in the box score.
Teven Williams, TJ Matrascia and Garret MacFarland all recovered one fumble as well as Slippery Rock came up with four fumble recoveries in the game.
Assumption was led by dangerous wide receiver and return specialist Deonte Harris, who finished with 250 all-purpose yards. He caught 11 passes for 160 yards, ran for 21 yards and one TD and had 61 kick return yards.
Marc Monks completed 50 percent of his passes (27-of-54) for 365 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Ashton Grant caught both touchdown passes and finished with nine catches for 134 yards.
James Ward rushed for 84 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries and Alex Shain rushed for 53 yards on 14 carries to lead the ground game.
Slippery Rock opened the scoring midway through the first quarter when Greene capped off an 11 play, 52-yard drive with a two-yard rushing TD. The PAT was blocked and returned all the way for a conversion by Kyle Contreras to make it 6-2 with 8:26 to play in the first.
The Rock added to the lead on the next Assumption possession when Conway sacked Monks and the ball popped free to Phillips, who raced 52 yards for the score to make it 13-2 in favor of SRU with 7:01 to play in the quarter.
Slippery Rock added to the lead again after the first fake punt attempt of the year, a jump pass from Crenshaw to McNally, went for a big gain on fourth down. The Rock reached the three-yard line on that drive, but turned the ball over on downs without scoring. Three plays later, Assumption fumbled the ball away and Matrascia recovered at the 10 to set up the next score. Nania connected with Raye from 13 yards out to make it 20-2 with 17 seconds left the play in the opening quarter.
Assumption bit into the lead late in the second quarter with a TD run from the fullback/defensive lineman Kevin Ihlefeld that made the score 20-9 with 4:50 left in the half.
The Rock pushed the margin back out again with another long drive, this time going 73 yards in 14 plays and taking 4:21 off the clock. Nania capped the drive with a three-yard run to make it 27-9 with just 23 seconds left in the half.
A personal foul called on the kickoff gave Assumption good field possession and set them up for a 47-yard field goal from Cole Tracy as time expired to make it 27-12 at the break. It was Tracy’s 22nd made field goal of the year.
The Rock took the momentum early in the second half with a fumble recovery on Assumption’s first possession. Nania connected with Dutrieuille from 47 yards out two plays later to make it 34-12 with 13:54 to play in the third.
Assumption put together the longest drive of the day on the next series, going 93 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 21-yard reverse to Harris to make it 34-19 with 10:27 to play in the third.
The Rock regained some momentum late in the quarter when Nania connected with McClain in the corner of the end zone to send it to the fourth with The Rock up 41-19.
Assumption began chipping away at the lead with a 75-yard drive to begin the fourth quarter that was capped by a one-yard run from Ward to make it 41-26. The Greyhounds then scored on their next possession with a 62 yard drive that was capped by a 10-yard TD pass to Grant to make it 41-33 with 7:42 to play.
It took just six plays and 1:45 to go 80 yards on the next series when Monks hit a wide open Grant for a 45-yard TD pass down the left side that made it 41-39 with 3:47 to play. The two-point pass for Grant was swatted away by a diving Howard to keep it 41-39.
Slippery Rock was forced to punt the ball back with just over two minutes to play, setting up the finishing interception from Howard.
The Rock will now turn their focus to undefeated Shepherd and the quarterfinal round next Saturday.
Press Release via Slipper Rock University
Photo Credit: Slippery Rock