The annual trips back and forth on Route 422 between Slippery Rock and Indiana help keep this college football rivalry going.
And that’s before the teams even get off the bus. There’s a lot more to it once they hit the field, and another chapter was written Saturday when No. 9 Slippery Rock outlasted visiting No. 16 IUP, 45-42.
“It’s a big rivalry that’s been going on for almost 100 years,” Slippery Rock quarterback Roland Rivers III said. “It’s special to be a part of it.”
Rivers III passed for 180 yards and rushed for 81 more, and Charles Snorweah added 123 yards rushing for his best showing since transferring this year from Rutgers. A crowd of 9,931 watched as The Rock earned their 12th consecutive victory over PSAC West opponents, a streak dating to 2017.
Slippery Rock (6-0, 3-0), the defending PSAC West champion, moved into sole possession of first place in the division after handing IUP (5-1, 2-1) its first loss.
The Rock led the Crimson Hawks, 31-7, in the final minute of the first half before IUP scored with 30 seconds remaining on Quinton Maxwell’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Duane Brown (Apollo-Ridge).
“What kept IUP in the game was getting that touchdown right there before the half,” Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz said. “Then, with them getting the football back to start the second half, we were back on our heels.”
Indeed, IUP was gaining momentum. Maxwell’s 8-yard scoring pass to Dom McNeil closed the gap to 31-21, and Maxwell’s 17-yard strike to JoJo Gause early in the fourth pulled the Crimson Hawks within 38-35.
Maxwell, a transfer from Ohio University, completed 26 of 50 passes for 360 yards and four touchdowns but came up short in leading IUP to a monumental comeback win.
“We gave it our all today, and we came up a little short,” he said. “We can’t dwell on it. Give props to Slip. That’s a heckuva football team over there.”
The same could be said for his bunch. The score, Lutz said, proved it.
“Two premier quarterbacks,” he said. “They’re a great football team. We’re a great football team. We’re mirror images of each other. In the first half, we had our way. In the second half, they really had theirs. It was one of those classic games. Everything mattered.”
The series perhaps might be as intense as any in the PSAC and NCAA Division II.
“We were both chippy out there today,” Lutz said. “It was just two great football teams battling.”
In the end, Slippery Rock finished with just a few more points. But it didn’t look that way early on.
DeSean Dinkins’ 2-yard touchdown run on the opening drive set up Slippery Rock with a 7-0 lead. Trysten McDonald intercepted a Maxwell pass and returned it 5 yards for another score and a 14-0 lead in the first. McDonald injured his leg after the play when he leaped to celebrate. He landed awkwardly and crumpled to the ground before being helped off the field. He didn’t return.
“Give (McDonald) some credit,” Maxwell said. “Hope he’s OK, but give him credit. I didn’t even see him. He didn’t go with a fake, and it was a heckuva play by them.”
A 26-yard field goal by Jake Chapla (Plum) made it 17-0 heading into the second quarter.
After Justice Evans (Central Catholic) scored for IUP on 10-yard run, Slippery Rock opened its 24-point lead with back-to-back touchdowns by Rivers III on a 12-yard run and Dinkins on a 29-yarder.
Only Brown’s late second-quarter score would give IUP some hope heading to the second half.
“We knew we didn’t play very well in the first half,” IUP coach Paul Tortorella said. “We threw a pick for a touchdown. And we should have had 28 points at halftime, but we had two TD drives totally killed by penalties. When you make big plays, and they get called back, you can’t just keep making big plays. That’s hard to recover from.”
IUP was penalized 14 times for 135 yards; Slippery Rock 10 for 125.
“We knew what we were facing coming in,” Maxwell said. “We weren’t able to put 60 minutes together of a good football game. If we were, the result might be a little different.”
Rivers III’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Wynn Jr. (Woodland Hills) gave Slippery Rock a 38-21 cushion before Maxwell’s final two TD passes, 17-yarders to McNeil and Gause, set up a chance for IUP to take the lead.
But Rivers III eked out a first down on a fourth-down call with a quarterback sneak that required a measurement, and Slippery Rock erased roughly 7 minutes on a drive that resulted in Snorweah’s 12-yard scoring run to give The Rock a 45-35 advantage.
Maxwell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 9 seconds left got IUP back within three, but, said Tortorella, “We ran out of time.”