Slippery Rock, PA- With a NCAA division II playoff berth on the line, the Golden Rams made the five hour trek to Northwestern Pennsylvania to take on Slippery Rock in the most important game of the season. It is fitting that these two squads battled it out with a playoff spot on the line as both schools have proud football traditions in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In a bizarre turn of events, West Chester seized control of its own playoff destiny in the final two minutes of the first half. Trailing Slippery Rock 10-7 with just under two minutes to play, the Golden Rams put together a solid drive to The Rock 15 yard line. West Chester faced a third and inches with 15 seconds left, and were forced to spike the ball to stop the clock. WCU Head Coach Bill Zwaan ran the field goal unit out on the field and Rock Head Coach Dr. George Mihalik called a timeout to ice Alex Walsh prior to his 25 yard field goal attempt.
Only, a peculiar thing happened. Zwaan pulled the kicking unit off the field, sending quarterback Bill Zwaan Jr. back on to the field, deciding to go for the jugular on the final play of the first half. “I screwed up,” said Zwaan. “I didn’t realize it was third down and we clock played it, and it was fourth down and we called a timeout.then they called a timeout.”
The ensuing play call on fourth and six was brilliant, but the elder Zwaan takes little credit for the decision to go for it on fourth down. “My son talked me into it”. On fourth and six Zwaan Jr., shrugged off the pressure and spotted Mike Washington in the corner of the endzone who made an acrobatic leaping over a Slippery Rock defender to make the grab with 7.9 seconds remaining in the half. “Mike made a great, great catch, that just shows his type of ability,” Zwaan praised. The Golden Rams would take a 14-10 lead into the locker room over Slippery Rock.
Or so it seemed.
On the ensuing kickoff, the special teams unit that has been the Achilles heal for this team in recent weeks converted on one of the most important plays of the 2006 season. Alex Walsh sent a dribbling kickoff down the field in an attempt to run out the clock, but a mental error by Slippery Rock’s Anthony Walls allowed the Rams to extend their lead. The ball bounced off of Walls’ arm at the 10 yard line and bounced into the endzone. Instead of just kneeling on the ball and settling for a touchback, Walls tried to pick it up and run. He would fumble in the endzone and it was recovered by the Golden Rams’ Brett Patterson for a touchdown. “Hustling really pays off,” said Patterson. “I just ran as hard as I could and when the ball popped out I jumped on it as fast as I could.”
Before you could blink, the Golden Rams went from trailing by three points to assuming a commanding 21-10 lead at halftime. Perhaps more importantly momentum was on West Chester’s side.
Then the rains came. Then the winds rolled in over the mountain and wreaked havoc on punters and kickers warming up at halftime.
West Chester’s offense went stagnant in the second half, and the defense would become the catalyst. “Defensively that’s probably as good as we’ve played all year,” Zwaan commented after the game. Faced with two Rock possessions under the 12 minute mark in the game, the Golden Rams forced two three and outs. Zwaan Jr. threw an interception with 6:27 remaining in the game putting the defense in a tough spot as The Rock took over at the Golden Ram 35 yard line.
On the very next play, Rashad Grimsley intercepted a Crookshank pass at the one yard line, giving the Golden Rams possession of the ball with just under six minutes remaining in the game. Two plays later, Brent Steinmetz would suffer an injury which was a crushing blow to the Golden Rams’ offense. When you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Zwaan Jr. threw his fourth interception of the game on the very next play.
With just over five minutes remaining The Rock took possession of the ball inside West Chester’s 30 yard line. Slippery Rock would capitalize this time around as Ryan Daniel split the uprights on a 45 yard field goal attempt. Following a three and out for the Golden Rams, The Rock engineered one of the most painful drives to watch for West Chester fans.
With no timeouts and the clock working against them Slippery Rock marched down the field. Fortunately the Ram Defense held. The Rock drive would stall at the 33 yard line, and the drama quickly escalated.
With just over 45 seconds remaining in the game, Daniels lined up for a 48 yard field goal with the playoff hopes and dreams of two clubs hinging on his right foot. In what seemed like forever to develop, Daniels made solid contact with the ball, and from the sidelines it appeared as though he got all of it, and the ball looked poised to sail over the uprights, taking with it the last gasp of hope remaining in West Chester’s playoff aspirations. But at the last second the ball trailed wide to the left. “Luck was on our side today,” said Lateef Ferguson. “That wind was going, and Mother Nature was on our side, she said ‘you’re going to the playoffs.'”
West Chester would escape Slippery Rock with a 21-20 victory and now march on to the Division II playoffs for the third consecutive season. At press time, matchups have yet to be determined but all signs point to a first round duel at Merrimack College next Saturday at 1:00.