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Slippery Rock’s Roland Rivers sparkles in first week of DII action


With a nearly perfect quarterback rating, dual-threat signal caller Roland Rivers III threw for a career-high 405 yards and six touchdowns and scrambled for an additional 67 rushing yards on nine carries, including a one-yard touchdown run, as Slippery Rock University (1-0) trounced Wayne State 62-37 last Thursday night in Detroit in the opening weekend of NCAA Division II gridiron action.

It was Slippery Rock’s eleventh straight season opening victory.

Rivers, a senior transfer from perennial powerhouse Valdosta State playing in his second season for The Rock, threw no interceptions and completed 23 of 30 passes in the lopsided contest, including a spectacular 78-yard strike to wide receiver Jermaine Wynn, Jr., in the opening moments of the third quarter to expand SRU’s bulging 49-14 halftime advantage.

Wynn, a 5-9, 185-pound redshirt junior from Pittsburgh, had eight receptions for 152 yards while scoring a pair of touchdowns.  Two other Slippery Rock receivers — Henry Litwin and Clique Sweeting — also hauled in two touchdown passes apiece.

Rivers, who played in eighteen games for high-powered Valdosta State — throwing nineteen touchdown passes and running for four more TDs — before suffering a shoulder injury during his sophomore year, threw for a sizzling 2,721 yards and 28 touchdowns for Slippery Rock last season, including a 403-yard, five touchdown outing in a 59-28 rout of division rival Edinboro. 

The Rock, currently ranked eleventh nationally in the AFCA Coaches Poll, host Shippensburg (0-1) in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) game at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on Saturday.  Falling behind 34-0 at half, the Raiders lost last week’s season opener at home to Clarion 48-28.

Rivers wasn’t the only Div. II player who performed brilliantly in the first week of action. 

Minnesota State’s Nate Gunn, a 6-2, 220-pound senior, rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-23 win over Southwest Minnesota State.  It was the twenty-fifth consecutive conference victory for the maroon and gold-clad Mavericks, who compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).

While reigning national champion Valdosta State won its sixteenth consecutive game — the longest current winning streak in Div. II — by pummeling Albany State (Ga.) 38-3 on the road, the opening week of Division II action saw five nationally-ranked teams go down to defeat, albeit two of them were against other higher-ranked squads. 

Three of them, however, lost to unranked opponents as then-eleventh ranked Fort Hays fell to Brook Bolles-led Central Missouri 34-31, No. 19 Hillsdale lost to Michigan Tech 29-14 and upstart Charleston (W.V.) stunned No. 25 Fairmount State 42-39.

Opening week, moreover, saw plenty of unforgettable, highlight film-worthy plays, not the least of which was Minot State’s Cory Carignan’s improbable 104-yard kickoff return after initially muffing the play and narrowly avoiding a safety in a 52-7 loss to nationally-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.

The opening week also featured an unprecedented international matchup as Texas A&M-Commerce routed Selección Nuevo León of Mexico 83-0.

More impressively, six Division II schools upset teams from the Div. I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) over the weekend, including Truman State which stunned Drake 10-7 without scoring an offensive touchdown. 

Other Div. II winners who knocked off FCS opponents were Midwestern State, a 33-7 blowout winner against struggling Northwestern State, East Stroudsburg, which stunned Wagner 24-14, Virginia Union defeated Hampton 36-17, and Tarleton State, which outlasted Stephen F. Austin 37-26.

But the biggest surprise might have been Kentucky State’s 13-7 upset of Robert Morris in Pittsburgh, snapping a 12-game losing streak.  It was the Thorobreds first win since the 2017 season.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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