District college football preview: Slippery Rock's playoff game leads this week's action
• When: 1 p.m. Saturday
• Records: SR: 9-2; WSS: 9-1
In search of its first NCAA playoff win since 1997, Slippery Rock will start the Division II tournament against an opponent that's impressively balanced but also burdened by off-the-field distractions.
The Rock, seeded No. 5 in Super Region One and ranked No. 20 in the latest American Football Coaches Association poll, opens the playoffs with an offense that's second in Division II in total offense at 566.2 yards per game and fifth in scoring offense at 45.5 points per game.
Winston-Salem State, a 2012 NCAA finalist and the No. 9 team in the AFCA poll, features a defense that allows a Division II-low 234.6 yards per game and an offense that averages 40.4 points per game. But the Rams grabbed headlines last week for reasons unrelated to their abilities.
At a banquet the day before the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship game, Winston-Salem State junior quarterback Rudy Johnson allegedly was beaten in a bathroom by players from Virginia State, the Rams' title-game opponent. Police charged one Virginia State player with misdemeanor assault.
CIAA officials canceled the championship game and ruled Virginia State ineligible for the NCAA playoffs.
Johnson, who suffered minor injuries, said at a news conference Monday he'll play Saturday.
An All-CIAA first-team selection, Johnson led his conference in passing yards per game (230.7) and touchdown passes (22). He also is one of the Rams' top rushers, averaging 46.7 yards per game.
Slippery Rock's defense received a boost of confidence from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's West division awards.
Defensive linemen Derek Walker (Brashear) and Tony Papley, linebackers Quindell Dean (Uniontown) and Gary Allen (North Allegheny), and defensive backs Austin Miele (Mars) and Anthony Saunders (Valley) earned first-team all-conference recognition.
Senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale claimed the PSAC West Offensive Player of the Year honor after shattering most of The Rock's single-season records. He averages 333.5 passing yards per game.
The winner of this first-round game will play regional No. 1 seed Shepherd (10-0) in the quarterfinals.
Saturday's other games to watch
• Washington & Jefferson at Mount Union, noon
W&J (8-2), the Presidents' Athletic Conference champion, begins the NCAA playoffs against arguably Division III's premier program. Mount Union (10-0), ranked No. 1 in the AFCA poll with 38 of 42 first-place votes, has reached the finals each of the past eight seasons and won the title during four of those trips. The Raiders have won 11 titles and boast a 78-13 record in the playoffs.
Junior dual-threat quarterback Kevin Burke, who has more than 2,500 passing yards and 726 rushing yards, leads an offense that's second in Division III in yards per game (545.7) and third in points per game (49.3).
All-PAC first-team offensive linemen Zack Crossey and senior Zach Wildey will try to open up running lanes against a Mount Union defense that allows just 70.2 rushing yards per game.
W&J actually leads the all-time series with Mount Union, 4-1. But the Raiders won the most recent meeting 55-0 in the NCAA first round in 2009.
• Waynesburg at SUNY-Brockport, noon
The Yellow Jackets (7-3) will play in an Eastern College Athletic Conference bowl game for the third straight year. Waynesburg's ECAC Northwest Bowl opponent, Brockport (7-3), tied Rowan for first in the New Jersey Athletic Conference but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Rowan advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Waynesburg senior defensive end Brandon Fedorka earned the PAC's Defensive Player of the Year award after leading the conference in sacks (11 1⁄2) and tackles for a loss (18 1⁄2). And junior quarterback Carter Hill grabbed first-team all-conference honors after completing 64.2 percent of his pass attempts for 2,883 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets beat Carnegie Mellon, 28-24, in the ECAC South West Bowl last year and lost to Widener, 48-27, in the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl in 2011.
• Robert Morris coach Joe Walton's final season in charge of the Colonials will end Saturday at Saint Francis. Walton, who coached his final home game last week, enters the last game of his 20th season with a career record of 115-91-1.
• Carnegie Mellon offensive coordinator Rich Erdelyi has retired after almost three decades in charge. Erdelyi, who capped his 28th season as offensive coordinator and 29th season with the program, became known throughout Western Pennsylvania and beyond for his extensive knowledge of the Wing-T offense, a scheme that helped the Tartans lead the University Athletic Conference in rushing 19 of the past 25 years. A trusted assistant to coach Rich Lackner, Erdelyi joined Carnegie Mellon in 1985 as an assistant line coach and moved up to offensive coordinator and running backs coach a year later. In 2006, he moved to quarterbacks coach. Erdelyi also coaches men's golf and will retire from that position as well.
• On the topic of Carnegie Mellon's offense: Due in part to the Tartans' relatively recent embrace of a spread-style Wing-T, quarterback Rob Kalkstein accumulated passing yards like few of his predecessors. In his final game, Kalkstein, a Gateway grad, became Carnegie Mellon's all-time passing leader with 5,664 yards. He threw for a career-high 327 yards in a 35-32 loss last week to surpass Richie Squires, who passed for 5,377 yards from 1968-71.
• Several freshmen earned PSAC West all-conference honors, but the player named the division's Freshman of the Year, Edinboro wide receiver Darren Massey, was not among that group. Massey, a Montour grad who played in seven games, finished with 26 receptions for 339 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 20 rushes for 69 yards and one touchdown, 10 kick returns for 206 yards and a blocked punt return for a touchdown. His six touchdowns led the team. While Massey missed All-PSAC West status, Mercyhurst redshirt freshman tight end R.J. Miller (North Hills) and Slippery Rock redshirt freshman offensive tackle Cory Tucker (South Park) earned first-team honors. Slippery Rock redshirt freshman running back Shamar Greene (West Mifflin) and California (Pa.) freshman defensive back Aaron Terry received second-team All-PSAC West honors.
• Slippery Rock senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale secured the PSAC West Offensive Player of the Year honor to highlight The Rock's strong showing in the conference awards. But the Defensive Player of the Year distinction went to a standout from a less celebrated team: Clarion's Julian Howsare. A junior defensive lineman for the 4-7 Golden Eagles, Howsare was one of three All-PSAC West selections and the school's only first-teamer. The Altoona grad earned the player of the year nod for a season in which he had 83 tackles, including 46 solo; PSAC West highs in sacks (9 1⁄2) and tackles for losses (16 1⁄2); two interceptions; two forced fumbles; and four blocked kicks.
• Two of the three major Presidents' Athletic Conference end-of-season awards went to WPIAL products. While Waynesburg senior defensive end Brandon Fedorka, a Hopewell grad, earned the PAC's Defensive Player of the Year award, Geneva freshman defensive back Tim Martin, a Moon alum, earned the conference's Newcomer Award. Martin led the conference in interceptions (six) and passes defended (20). The PAC Offensive Player of the Year award went to Thomas More junior running back Domonique Hayden.