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Slippery Rock routs Shippensburg

| Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

More than 8,700 fans at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium witnessed a rare form of Slippery Rock on Saturday night.

The Rock's home opener included offensive potency only a few of the team's recent predecessors possessed. Slippery Rock (2-0) amassed 513 yards, including 394 in the first half, during a 58-38 home win over Shippensburg (0-2), the preseason favorite to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's East division.

“I think it's our offense's personality,” said senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale, who completed 19 of 35 pass attempts for 304 yards and four touchdowns. “We want to come out, and we want to get after the defense. We want to show them what's up.”

Such a wildly productive performance might've surprised 26th-year coach George Mihalik had the Rock not gained 675 yards in Week 1.

“Did I think we'd have that much? No,” Mihalik said. “But I knew we had that ability. It's nice to be where we are.”

Through two games, The Rock are marching downfield far better than any team in the past decade. A year ago, Slippery Rock averaged 407 yards and 34.8 points per game. In its best offensive season from the past 10 years, 2007, the Rock averaged 463.5 yards and 35.6 points per game.

The Rock grabbed Shippensburg's attention just after the opening kickoff. On just the second play from scrimmage, Shamar Greene went 61 yards up the middle of the defense for a score.

In The Rock's second drive, Barksdale connected with wide receiver John Schademan twice for gains of 39 and 17 yards. Then, Brett Crenshaw scored the first of his two touchdown runs as he reached the end zone from 1 yard out.

Slippery Rock went 12 plays before it lost a yard, and it scored during four of its five first-quarter drives.

Few teams grasp the nature of high-scoring offenses better than Shippensburg, which beat Slippery Rock, 55-35, last year and then tore through the PSAC East with a spread offense that ranked No. 1 in Division II in total offense.

The Red Raiders, who averaged 46.8 points per game, were fueled by quarterback Zach Zulli, who won the 2012 Harlon Hill award, Division II's equivalent of the Heisman.

Zulli, a senior this season, threw for 129 yards and one score during a first half in which Shippensburg trailed, 44-10. But he and the rest of the Red Raiders stirred to life in the third quarter and scored three consecutive touchdowns to cut the deficit to 13 points.

“At halftime, I chewed them out because we were playing sloppy football and not doing what we were supposed to do, and there's no excuse for that,” Shippensburg coach Mark Maciejewski said.

“We had 30 minutes to prove ourselves a little bit, and we came out, did some things and had them on the ropes. And then big plays, they killed us all night.”

Shippensburg, which fell from No. 7 in the preseason American Football Coaches Association poll to out of the Top 25 after a Week 1 33-0 loss to then-No. 25 Shepherd, never came closer than 13 points in the second half. It finished with 394 yards of offense. Zulli completed 32 of 65 pass attempts for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Schademan, a Bethel Park grad, finished with five receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Greene, a West Mifflin alum, gained 117 yards on 15 carries.

“We've certainly got the tools,” Schademan said of The Rock's ability to remain among the nation's top offenses. “We've just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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