SLIPPERY ROCK — Thirty first downs, 561 yards of offense and one of the most productive days by a quarterback in school history.
And a loss.
Slippery Rock University wound up with all of those things in a bizarre 56-49 defeat at the hands of Kutztown Saturday night at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
The Rock (2-3, 1-1) rallied from a 21-point halftime deficit to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, only to cough it up late in the game.
Five turnovers — including two in the final five minutes — proved critical in the loss.
“This was a wild one, a crazy one,” Kutztown coach Raymond Monica said. “But we had a 5-1 edge in turnovers? That’s the game right there.”
The final turnover was a questionable one. Facing fourth-and-7 from the Kutztown 26 in a last-ditch effort to tie the game with 1:21 remaining, Rock coach George Mihalik called a timeout as quarterback Nigel Barksdale was shaken up on the previous play.
“I called the timeout to save (Barksdale’s) playing status, so he could stay in the game,” Mihalik said. “Then the official tells me that’s not the rule, that an injured player has to come out for a play.”
Barksdale was playing for regular starter Jared Buck, who missed Saturday’s game because of concussion symptoms. Third-string quarterback Caleb Vescovi entered the game and delivered a 12-yard strike over the middle to LaQuinn Stephens-Howling for an apparent first down.
With Stephens-Howling and two defenders on the ground, the ball squirted out of the pile and defensive back Jason Ulmer grabbed it. The officials ruled a fumble and Kutztown killed the clock from there.
“He (Stephens-Howling) was down before that ball came out,” Mihalik said. “The official standing along our sideline saw it, knew it ... he wasn’t going to overrule his fellow official. It’s a shame.
“But to allow the game to come down to that one play — that’s on us. We never should have been in that situation.”
Making his first collegiate start for The Rock, Barksdale accounted for 430 yards and five touchdowns. He threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 169 and two scores in rallying his team from behind.
SRU trailed 42-21 at halftime, largely due to special teams mistakes.