Slippery Rock had its NCAA Division II postseason run significantly altered by Kutztown before it began.
On Saturday at Slippery Rock’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, the Golden Bears finished the job.
No. 3 seed Kutztown got off to a fast start in the NCAA Division II Super Regional One championship game and held the fourth-seeded Slippery Rock offense scoreless on five second-half trips in the red zone to emerge with a 28-16 victory.
The second Golden Bears (12-2) win against the No. 15 Rock (12-2) in the past three weeks handed Kutztown coach Jim Clements’ team its first super regional championship in school history.
“It was great to come here and get the win, to leave no doubt of where we are as a program,” Clements said. “I’m super proud of our guys. This is a great program, Slippery Rock. They do an unbelievable job, coach Lutz and his kids and his coaching staff do a great job.
“We’ve won, I think, five of the last six,” he added. “The beast of the east is here, and we’re fired up about it.”
Then the fourth-ranked Division II team in the nation, Slippery Rock was upset by the Golden Bears, 31-7, in the Nov. 11 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship game. The loss knocked the Rock out of the likely top seed in Super Regional One.
Slippery Rock’s fifth consecutive NCAA postseason run, the second-longest active streak in the nation, ended just short of the program’s first trip to the national semifinals since 2019.
Despite outgaining Kutztown, 502-203, Saturday, the high-powered Rock offense was 2 for 7 in the red zone for the game. Slippery Rock failed to score on four chances inside the Kutztown 10-yard line over the game’s final two quarters.
“We just came up short today,” Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz said. “I’m not really speechless just because I feel so much pain for these seniors when it’s over. It didn’t matter if we were home or away, I just didn’t want to let it go for these guys because this is all they got.
“Statistics, I guess, don’t mean anything. I’ve never really seen stats before where we have 500 yards of offense and we gave up 200. Give Kutztown credit. They created turnovers. We didn’t. That must’ve been the difference in the game.”
The Rock had its chances in the second half to regain control of the game.
After taking a 21-14 deficit into half time, Slippery Rock took the first drive of the second half deep into Kutztown territory but turned the football over on downs at the Golden Bears’ 9-yard line.
After defensive back Eddie Faulkner IV, a Shady Side Academy graduate, recovered a fumble by Kutztown running back Darryl Davis-McNeil, the Rock again saw a potential game-tying drive stall in the red zone when running back Isaiah Edwards fumbled the football at the Golden Bears’ 5-yard line.
Slippery Rock’s fate was sealed when quarterback Brayden Long drove his team to the Kutztown 5-yard line but was intercepted by Golden Bears defensive back Antaun Lloyd in the end zone.
Lloyd returned the football 100 yards for a touchdown to make the Kutztown advantage 28-14 with 7:07 left in the game.
“I thought the slant was coming, so I was ready to break it up, it wasn’t going to be a touchdown,” Lloyd said. “Then I felt the double move. I was in good position. I was able to shield his body and catch the pick and take it to the crib.”
Long said he threw the pass believing a penalty would be called on the play.
“That was a double-move play, fourth down, I was trying to give him a shot,” said Long of the pass intended for receiver Kyle Sheets. “If anything, I was trying to get a call because he got held up. I guess it didn’t get called. It wasn’t good enough. It just can’t happen in that situation.”
A Harlon Hill Award finalist, which is annually given to the top Division II player in the country, Long completed 33-of-43 passes for 322 yards and one interception. He completed a game-high 11 passes for 83 yards to Cohen Russell and seven passes for 90 yards to West Allegheny product Kam Kruzelyak.
Slippery Rock, which gained 180 yards on the ground, was paced by running back Chris D’Or, who had 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and Khalid Dorsey, who rushed for 53 yards and a score.
“I thought we ran it effectively when we needed to,” Lutz said. “It was just critical times, we couldn’t get those scores.”
Kutztown was led offensively by redshirt freshman quarterback Judd Novak, who completed 11-of-16 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 29 yards and a score. He completed three passes for 66 yards and a touchdown to Mehki Gibson.
Davis-McNeil rushed for just 35 yards for the Golden Bears but also caught two passes for 16 yards and a touchdown.
“Our wide receivers balled out,” Novak said. “They did not drop anything. Our running backs Darryl and Jaedyn and Steve did a hell of a job, too. That’s our objective is to score every drive.”
Efficiency on offense was the name of the game for Kutztown in the first half.
The Golden Bears scored on all three of its first-half drives and capitalized on a Slippery Rock turnover by Long.
Novak opened the scoring with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Gibson on Kutztown’s first drive, which was matched by an 8-yard touchdown run by Dorsey to tie the score at 7-7.
Then Novak capped a seven-play, 32-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
When Long then fumbled the football away on a third-down scramble on the ensuing drive, the Golden Bears took control of the half.
Novak led Kutztown on a 13-play, 72-yard drive, which took 7:37 off the clock and was punctuated with his 16-yard touchdown pass to Davis-McNeil that gave the Bears a 21-7 lead with 3:28 left to play in the half.
Slippery Rock would respond, however, trimming its deficit to 21-14 at the break when D’Or scored on a 3-yard run with eight seconds left in the second quarter.
Kutztown was outgained, 209-156, in the first half, but was 6 for 6 on third down over the first two quarters.
“We only had one bad drive in that first half,” said redshirt senior linebacker Kyle Kudla of the Rock defense. “In the second half, we made a couple adjustments at halftime, at the break, and you saw an entirely different defense.
“You see stats like this, these guys were under 4 yards a carry, 200 yards of total offense, only 43 snaps for that offense, I don’t know. I’m with coach Lutz and Braden, as I look at this stuff, I guess I just haven’t processed it yet, but I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”