In the same week it earned its fifth consecutive NCAA Division II playoff seeding, the second-longest streak in the nation, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division champion Slippery Rock led the conference’s postseason award selections.
Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz was named the PSAC West Coach of the Year and junior quarterback Brayden Long was named Offensive Player of the Year. The Rock placed eight players on the first-team all-conference squads, while an additional five were second-team selections.
“It says a lot about the quality of your program when you have 13 guys recognized and you feel like there were maybe a few more guys deserving that were left off the team,” Lutz said. “To have nine players on offense and four offensive linemen speaks to the caliber of our offense this year. It’s great to see those guys be recognized.”
In addition, eight former WPIAL players were named to the PSAC West first-team all-conference squad, while another was placed on the PSAC East team.
Lutz, in his eighth season as the Rock’s head coach and 28th overall at the Butler County university, earned his third Coach of the Year award. He led Slippery Rock to an undefeated regular season and its fifth consecutive West Division title. The Rock was one of 13 teams in the country with at least 10 wins.
“I honestly wish they would change the name of the award to the ‘Coaching Staff of the Year,’” Lutz said. “Our coaching staff is tremendous, from our coordinators and full-time guys all the way down to the volunteers and interns. We have a terrific staff from top to bottom, and none of our success happens without the contributions of the entire staff and obviously the commitment from the student-athletes.”
No. 15 Slippery Rock, which fell Saturday in the PSAC championship game to Kutztown, will open its NCAA Division II playoff run at home 1 p.m. Saturday against East Stroudsburg at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
Long, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound signal caller, led the PSAC in each statistical passing category this season. He completed 68.36% of his passes for 3,061 yards, 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His top target was receiver Kyle Sheets, a PSAC West first-team all-conference selection, who caught 63 passes for 1,028 yards and 15 scores.
“He led the PSAC in every passing stat this year and has had one of the best seasons by a QB in program history,” said Lutz of Long. “I think Kyle Sheets could have also been the offensive award winner, but we can only nominate one player, and the importance of the QB position, and the way Brayden played this year, made him our most valuable player on offense.
“He’s such a smart player and has developed into a true leader on our football team and on our campus.”
Slippery Rock tight end Kam Kruzelyak, a West Allegheny graduate, was also named a PSAC West first-team all-conference selection. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound tight end caught 33 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns.
“I was particularly happy to see our offensive line and tight end Kam Kruze get recognized,” Lutz said. “Those guys do a lot of things that make us successful that don’t always show up in the box scores.”
Junior defensive back Eddie Faulkner IV, a Shady Side Academy graduate, joined junior defensive lineman Munchie Johnson as Slippery Rock’s first-team all-conference selections on defense.
Faulkner IV, the son of Pittsburgh Steelers running back coach Eddie Faulkner, had 47 tackles, five for a loss, with four sacks and four interceptions. He also had four quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.
“Defensively, we thought Eddie and Munchie had a great year,” Lutz said. “I’m thrilled for Munchie to be recognized as a first-teamer because he is kind of an undersized guy in there, and his motor and his work ethic just makes him such a strong player.”
Former WPIAL first-team all-conference selections
Seton Hill redshirt sophomore running back Ky’Ron Craggette, a Connellsville native, carried the football 151 times for 809 yards and 15 touchdowns. His brother, Das’jon, led Southmoreland to its second consecutive WPIAL Class 3A playoff appearance, rushing for 1,466 yards and 19 scores this fall.
Redshirt junior linebacker Drew DiNunzio-Biss, a Kiski Area graduate, led the Indiana University of Pennsylvania defense with a team-high 94 tackles, 16 for a loss, with 5½ sacks. He also forced two fumbles and recovered another.
Crimson Hawks junior defensive back Darius Bruce, a Westinghouse graduate, had 55 tackles , 16 for a loss, with 5½ sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble.
Mercyhurst senior defensive lineman RJ Tillman, a West Mifflin native and Central Catholic graduate, racked up 24 tackles with a ½ sack.
Junior linebacker CJ Waldier, a Yough product, led the Edinboro defense with 100 tackles, seven for a loss, with 1½ sacks. He also forced one fumble and recovered two.
Junior punter Reed Martin, a Plum graduate, also had a strong season for the Fighting Scots special teams unit. He averaged 39.88 yards per punt, with nine traveling more than 50 yards.
Martin, who also made 6-of-10 field goals, had his longest punt of the season travel 73 yards.
Mt. Lebanon graduate Seth Morgan made the most of this first season leading the PSAC East Division Shepherd offense.
Morgan transferred from Division I FCS Virginia Military Institute to replace former Rams quarterback Tyson Bagent, who threw for 17,034 yards and an all-time record across all NCAA divisions of 159 touchdowns, before making the jump from the NCAA Division II level to making starts for the NFL’s Chicago Bears this season.
Morgan, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, led Shepherd to an at-large bid in the NCAA Division II playoffs. He threw for 2,761 yards, completing 67.06% of his passes, for 23 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.