The 10th ranked Slippery Rock University football team saw its storybook season come to end with a 28-16 defeat on the road at No. 5 Shepherd in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Ram Stadium.
The Rock finishes the 2015 season tied with the 1998 team for the best record in school history with a 12-2 mark. Shepherd improves to 12-0 and advances to the NCAA semifinals.
Slippery Rock scored the first points of the game midway through the opening quarter and looked poised to jump out to a 14-0 lead not long after, but a holding call on a receiver negated what would have been a first and goal from the three. That became the theme of the rest of the first half as Slippery Rock was called for 11 penalties for 120 yards in the opening half alone.
Shepherd used those penalties to stay on the field for 17:31 of possession in the first half and finally capitalized with the tying touchdown with 4:39 to play before halftime, sending the game to the break tied at 7-7.
The Rock defense played outstanding all day, but gave up one big play in the game early in the third quarter, a 74-yard catch and run TD pass to Billy Brown, that put Shepherd on top 13-7 after the point after was missed.
After another SRU penalty on the next play from scrimmage, The Rock fumbled the ball and it was recovered on the SRU 10 yard line. Shepherd rushed in on the next play to completely flip the momentum of the game and take a 19-7 lead after another PAT was missed.
The Rams added to the score on their next possession when Allen Cross broke through the line and rushed in from 27 yards out to make it 25-7 with 5:15to play in the third.
Slippery Rock tried to regain the momentum, first getting on the board after two long passes from Dante Nania down he sideline set up a TD pass to Jaimire Dutrieuille> to make it 25-14 with 4:32 to play in the third.
Andrew Huska pinned the Rams at their own half-yard line on his next punt and The Rock brought down quarterback Jeff Ziemba in the end zone for a safety to make it 25-16 heading to the fourth quarter.
Shepherd got another big play, this time a 72-yard punt return from Keon Robinson, but Huska made the TD-saving tackle and The Rock defense forced a field goal that made it 28-16 with 8:47 to play.
Slippery Rock managed to move the ball down the field twice, but stalled inside Shepherd territory and turned the ball over on downs each time to end the game.
The Rock finished the game with a 21-17 edge in first downs and ran 86 plays for 320 yards, including 253 passing yards and 67 rushing yards. The rushing total was dragged down by sack yardage in the second half after SRU rushed for 83 yards in the first half. The Rock finished the game with 16 penalties for 144 yards.
Shepherd put up 352 yards of total offense on 65 plays, including 255 through the air and 97 on the ground.
Shamar Greene rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown to pace the ground game for Slippery Rock. In the process he became the second running back in program history to rush for more than 1,500 yards in a single-season and finishes 2015 with 1,545 yards, despite missing 2.5 games with an injury.
Nania completed 27-of-53 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His TD pass to Dutrieuille broke the single-season passing TD record and gave him 31 for the year.
Dutrieuille caught 10 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown, becoming the first SRU player to catch 10 passes in a game since John Schademan in the PSAC Championship game in 2013. Dutrieuille’s TD grab was the 20th of his career, which ranks as the third most in program history.
Huska had one of the best games of his career, finishing with nine punts for 412 yards, an average of 45.8 yards per punt.
Marcus Martin had a big day to lead the defense for Slippery Rock. He tied the program record for tackles for loss in a game with 5.0 and recorded 3.0 sacks in the game to bring his season total to 16.0. The 3.0 sacks also give him 32.0 sacks for his career and move him into a tie for the all-time career record at SRU after just two seasons. With two years of eligibility remaining, Martin is on a pace that would make him the all-time sack leader in NCAA history.
Ziemba, a Harlon Hill finalist, completed 15-of-26 passes for 255 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Shepherd. Tony Squirewell caught seven passes for 61 yards and one TD and Brown finished with two catches for 89 yards, but one of those catches went for 74 yards and a TD. Allen Cross rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
Saturday’s game was the first time Shepherd has won the regional title on its home field and the first victory for the Rams over Slippery Rock in Shepherdstown. SRU leads the all-time series 3-2
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