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District football Week 5 preview: PSAC titans Cal (Pa.), Slippery Rock to collide

| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, 5:27 p.m.
Slippery Rock quarterback Tanner Garry, a Fort Cherry product, second in Division II with 16 touchdown passes and third with 1,425 passing yards.
Slippery Rock athletics
Slippery Rock quarterback Tanner Garry, a Fort Cherry product, second in Division II with 16 touchdown passes and third with 1,425 passing yards.
Westminster defensive end Bobby Noble, a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate, had 10 tackles, including two sacks, against Bethany on Saturday.
Westminster athletics
Westminster defensive end Bobby Noble, a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate, had 10 tackles, including two sacks, against Bethany on Saturday.

Game of the week

Cal (Pa.) at Slippery Rock

6 p.m. Saturday

Both PSAC powers escaped with narrow victories last week.

One won't be so lucky Saturday.

The fifth-ranked Vulcans (4-0, 1-0 PSAC West) and 18th-ranked Rock (4-0, 1-0) square off in a matchup of two of the best offenses in Division II, with each team averaging more than 40 points.

Both were on display last week, as Cal senior quarterback Michael Keir ran for a touchdown with 18.8 seconds left to edge winless Seton Hill, 44-41. Slippery Rock, meanwhile, scored on a 73-yard pass from senior Tanner Garry to classmate Marcus Johnson with less than two minutes left to defeat Gannon, 49-45.

"We call it the wild, wild PSAC West," Rock coach Shawn Lutz said. "You're in a game every single week. That's not just coach's talk. Every game you're going to get a test, and we both realized that this past week."

The quarterbacks will be in the spotlight.

Keir, a third-year starter, has thrown for 1,056 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He had 41 touchdown passes as a junior, and Lutz said Keir "is as good as anyone in the country in Division II."

Keir's top targets are two seniors: Baldwin graduate Luke Smorey (26 catches, 298 yards, two touchdowns) and Woodland Hills product Tom Greene (23 catches, 366 yards, two TDs). They rank third and sixth in the PSAC in receptions.

The defending league champion Vulcans entered the season with lofty expectations, and although they haven't dominated every opponent, coach Gary Dunn commended his players.

"We haven't played great in all phases every week," he said. "It seems like each week one side of the ball or special teams has picked us up. It's really the definition of a team."

While Keir was an All-PSAC performer entering the season, Garry was more of an unknown. The Fort Cherry graduate began his college career at Bowling Green, then transferred to Youngstown State. He was a backup there for three years before transferring to Slippery Rock. But he had to sit out last year because of NCAA transfer rules. So Garry is starting for the first time since his senior year of high school — 2011 — and he's thriving in The Rock's spread offense.

"Nobody really plans on going away to college and having their last real downs of football being in high school," Garry said. "Finally getting a chance to come here and be a part of something special. … It's been surreal."

Garry ranks second in D-II with 16 touchdown passes and third with 1,425 passing yards. In Saturday's victory, he threw for five touchdowns, and his 518 yards passing were the second most in a game in school history.

Slippery Rock's senior receiving duo is drawing attention, too.

Allderdice graduate Milly Raye (26 catches, 440 yards, five touchdowns) has been on "SportsCenter" for four straight weeks because of his video game-like moves and big-play touchdowns. And it's hard to find a more versatile player than Johnson, a University Prep graduate who is tied for first in D-II with 1,011 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns.

The game might come down to Slippery Rock's young defense, which despite having all-time D-II sacks leader Marcus Martin (West Mifflin), is coming off a week in which it allowed Gannon's Marc Jones to rush for a PSAC-record 354 yards.

"A little bit of it was guys were thinking, and when you think, you slow down and don't react the way you want to," said Lutz, whose defense features seven starters who are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. "These guys got to get better quickly if we want to compete for a championship."

Other top matchups

IUP at Seton Hill

4 p.m. Saturday

No. 3 IUP (4-0, 1-0 PSAC West) goes on the road for the first time against a Seton Hill team (0-4, 0-1) that had a late lead against Cal (Pa.) last week before losing 44-41. … Crimson Hawks junior QB Lenny Williams (Sto-Rox) threw a career-best four touchdowns last week and moved to fourth on the school's all-time list with 6,255 total yards.

Thiel at W&J

TBA Monday

The game has been tentatively rescheduled because of an outbreak of sick students at Thiel. … No. 15 Washington & Jefferson (3-0, 1-0) returns from its bye week looking to stay unbeaten against the Tomcats (1-3, 1-1). … W&J ranks second in Division III with 398 passing yards per game behind senior quarterback Alex Rowse (Beaver). … Thiel junior Nick Barca (Baldwin) ranks fourth in D-III with 658 yards rushing.

Player focus

Bobby Noble, Westminster

Senior defensive end

The Greensburg Central Catholic graduate earned PAC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after recording 10 tackles, including two sacks, in a 41-14 victory over Bethany.

Noble is one of the anchors for a defense that is allowing a conference-best 13.7 points per game and has surrendered only five touchdowns in three games. His three sacks lead the Titans and are tied for third in the PAC.

Westminster defensive end Bobby Noble had 10 tackles, including two sacks, against Bethany on Saturday.

Photo by Westminster athletics

 

By the numbers

86 — Length of Willie Richter's punt-return TD for Carnegie Mellon last week, second longest in school history

878 — Rushing yards for Gannon junior Marc Jones, tops in Division II and second among all divisions

Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.

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