No. 13 Football Stymied by Slippery Rock, 20-14 in NCAA First Round
BROOKVILLE, N.Y. – The magical 2018 campaign came to a close for the LIU Post football team during a 20-14 loss to No. 7 seed Slippery Rock University at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17 in the first round of the NCAA Division II championship. The Pioneers were one of three top-seeded teams to fall in Super Region I on Saturday, as No. 1 seed Notre Dame (Ohio) earned a bye during the opening round. Third-seeded West Chester University came up short against the University of New Haven, while No. 4 seed Kutztown University fell to No. 5 seed Hillsdale College. While the Rock controlled the tempo and put LIU Post on its heels for much of the contest, the visitors outgained LIU Post just 355-343 on offense. The big difference came in the rushing game, as Slippery Rock compiled 192 yards on the ground to just 10 yards for LIU Post, while the Pioneers threw for 333 yards to just 163 for The Rock. Graduate student quarterback Chris Laviano tossed all 333 yards for the Green and Gold, matching a program record with 61 pass attempts on the afternoon. Redshirt-senior Michael Richardson was on the receiving end of 10 attempts, racking up 150 yards, while redshirt-junior Jake Bofshever notched a career-high 83 yards on six receptions and one touchdown. For The Rock, Wes Hills led the tremendous rushing attack with 33 carries for 167 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Roland Rivers III added 48 yards on 10 attempts, including a 27-yard scramble on 3rd-and-6 deep in Slippery Rock's own territory during the third quarter. Rivers found just three different receivers on the day, with Jermaine Wynn Jr. hauling in eight of Rivers' 12 completions for 155 yards and one touchdown. Wynn jumpstarted Slippery Rock on the game's first play from scrimmage, taking a bubble screen and slipping a tackle before weaving through the Pioneer secondary for a 75-yard touchdown just 16 seconds into the contest. From there, the early-game jitters set in for both sides, as Laviano and Rivers threw interceptions on three-consecutive drives, though the Pioneers could only capitalize with three points as Slippery Rock held a 7-3 lead at the end of the opening stanza. A 25-yard field goal and a 41-yard touchdown run by Hills made it a two-touchdown game midway through the second quarter and it was the Slippery Rock defense that stood tall, forcing a field goal attempt during the final minute of the half after a 14-play drive stalled out for the Pioneer offense. Trailing 17-6 at the start of the third quarter, LIU Post received the second half kickoff and put together one of the most promising drives of the day, moving 82 yards on 12 plays. A loss of five yards on a 2nd-and-10 play pushed LIU Post back to the Slippery Rock 17-yard line, forcing the Green and Gold to be aggressive with the two-possession deficit. Laviano looked for Richardson on a post route down the left seam but Dalton Holt read it perfectly in the secondary and stepped in front to intercept the pass two yards into the end zone to deliver a crushing blow midway through the third quarter. The same score line remained through the end of the period and the Pioneers opened the final stanza facing 4th-and-1 from the Rock 10-yard line. After two line shifts, Laviano quickly moved up from his shotgun position and attempted a quarterback sneak to pick up the first-down yardage. Despite initially appearing to have moved the chains, the officials marked him inches shy of the yard-to-gain marker to once again keep the potent Pioneers offense in check. LIU Post stepped up on defense on the following possession, forcing a three-and-out. After being flushed from the pocket on the first play of the drive, Laviano found Richardson for a 44-yard completion to set up 1st-and-goal from the three-yard line. On third down, Laviano found Bofshever on an out route on the right side of the end zone for the first Pioneer touchdown of the day. A successful two-point conversion attempt made it 17-14 with 11:58 to play, giving the Pioneers life. A Slippery Rock field goal made it a one-touchdown deficit for LIU Post once again, and the Pioneers garnered one final opportunity when they took over possession with 2:37 remaining in the contest. Two big completions to redshirt-senior Deon Mash and Bofshever set LIU Post up with 1st-and-10 at the Slippery Rock 41-yard line. The Pioneers picked up nine yards over the next three plays, setting up 4th-and-1 with under one minute remaining. After going through several progressions, Laviano was forced to backpedal and roll to his right to try to find redshirt-senior Malik Pierre out of the backfield, but his off-balanced attempt fell short and with that, the Rock was able to take two kneel downs to close out the contest to advance to the second round of the NCAA championship. Slippery Rock will take on the University of New Haven at Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24 with the winner advancing to the Super Region I title game. LIU Post closes out the season with a 10-1 overall record, recording the third unbeaten regular season in program history. During the unbeaten stretch, the Pioneers notched the longest winning streak in school history at 15 games and held the longest active win streak in Division II before Saturday's loss.