The Shippensburg University football team took the field against cross-conference opponent Slippery Rock University for the first time in five years, ending with a thrilling finish that brought SU fans to their feet as the Red Raiders took the win in the final seconds, 25–21.
In the Red Raiders’ second game of the season, the play was much scrappier than it had been the previous week, as the teams went into halftime with one touchdown apiece after several missed opportunities and defensive stops.
The Rock took the first lead of the game after an impressive drive by SU had the ball in the red zone. Redshirt-senior running back Marcus Lominy was handed the ball at the three-yard line and fumbled. The football was picked up by Slippery Rock linebacker Trysten McDonald and returned 97 yards for a touchdown.
This was one of several turnovers by both teams in inopportune situations. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina threw the first two interceptions of his career when Shippensburg was deep in the Rock’s territory, squandering a couple good scoring chances. Mussina struggled to get into a rhythm during the game, missing his receivers high on several occasions. He struggled with accuracy, finishing with 23 completions on 48 attempts. He ended with 285 total yards passing and two touchdowns to his two picks.
The SU run game was the team’s driving force in the first half, as Lominy finished with 69 rushing yards. Redshirt-sophomore back Raleigh Sirb also contributed 33 yards on the ground as SU dominated the Slippery Rock defensive line.
The Red Raider defense played tough the entire game, limiting the Rock’s offense to only 45 yards rushing on the day. The passing game became an issue in the second half after Slippery Rock swapped quarterbacks from Andrew Koester — 122 yards and an interception to — Taylor King, who revived the Slippery Rock offense, throwing for 335 yards and a touchdown. The SU defense had trouble containing him in the half, although they did force two crucial picks as the game came down to the wire.
Redshirt-senior defensive end Dakota Thompson continued his good start to the season, picking up another sack and a half to make it three on the season. He was just one of several Red Raiders who were constantly pressuring the Slippery Rock quarterbacks throughout the game. Redshirt-senior defensive linemen John Durkin and Josh Lister also threw in a sack each.
SU was gifted a great opportunity on its first punt when the Slippery Rock return man muffed the punt and redshirt-freshman linebacker Laron Woody recovered the ball at the Rock’s 20-yard line. The drive would not go far, however, as Mussina threw his first interception at the 10-yard line, giving the ball back to Slippery Rock. The Red Raiders won the overall turnover battle, with three interceptions and two fumbles to the Rock’s two picks and one fumble.
All of the Red Raiders’ interceptions came at crucial points in the game. The first was claimed by Jailen Harmon, who picked off Koester at SU’s five-yard line after a 27-yard gain put Slippery Rock at the 29. SU capitalized on the turnover, as Mussina hit redshirt-junior receiver Josh Gontarek on a 59-yard touchdown for its first score.
Linebacker Tyler Emge intercepted King at the Red Raiders’ 11-yard line and returned it 39 yards to midfield. Once again, the SU offense did a great job converting the turnovers into points when Mussina hit redshirt-sophomore Charles Headen III for a 33-yard score.
The biggest play of the day came on one of the last drives of the game. Mussina threw an interception to end a lengthy drive that had the Red Raiders in position to take back the lead while down 21–18. With less than a minute remaining in the fourth, Slippery Rock botched the snap and the ball fell into its own end zone. Redshirt-senior defensive end Richard Nase made a heads-up play and fell on top of the ball for the go-ahead touchdown. Freshman kicker David Shank, after struggling all day on field goals and extra points, nailed the extra point to give the Red Raiders a four-point lead.
When talking about his big play after the game, Nase said, “Never give up. That’s one of our mottos we go through every day. We’re the best D-line in the country. That’s always our mentality. We’re gonna come out and punch you in the mouth every play.”
The Rock got the ball back with 50 seconds to go and started moving down the field with short passes to the sideline. Just when it seemed that Slippery Rock had a chance to retake the lead and win the game, redshirt-junior corner John Chaney III picked off King at the SU four-yard line to end the game.
The SU offensive line did not allow a sack to Mussina all day, doing its best to keep the redshirt-freshman as comfortable as possible.
After an explosive second half in the season-opening win against Clarion University, redshirt-sophomore receiver Winston Eubanks kept very quiet the entire game, reeling in three catches for 42 yards on 12 targets.
Mussina kept trying to get the ball to Eubanks, but he missed him by only a couple yards on several throws. Eubanks beat his defenders on a few attempts, but Mussina barely missed him — a trend that continued all day.
Despite the high number of targets Eubanks’ way, Mussina spread the ball around pretty well, hitting eight different targets. Gontarek led the way in yards, catching three balls for 84 yards and a score.
One of the most interesting plays of the game came in the third quarter on a two-point conversion attempt after a Luke Durkin rushing score.
Senior QB Chase Yocum was in the game and the team attempted a version of the famous “Philly Special” play run by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. Eubanks took the ball on the end-around and attempted to throw into the end zone to Yocum, but the pass fell incomplete.
Despite the scrappiness of the game — both teams combined for almost 200 yards on 19 penalties — the Red Raiders showed their commitment and resiliency, something that Coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski constantly preaches to his players.
“We play with heart and soul for 60 minutes,” said Mac. “We’re gonna go 100 miles an hour at the next game. We got a real tough schedule here, so we’re gonna take one game at a time.”
Now 2–0, SU will take on California University of Pennsylvania on Saturday for Parents and Family Day at 1 p.m. at Seth Grove Stadium.