District preview: Top offenses clash in playoff game for Slippery Rock

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Even with a loss to Bloomsburg in the PSAC championship last Saturday, Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik was still confident The Rock would reach the NCAA Division II playoffs.

When the field was announced, that belief was confirmed. The Rock will get the chance to continue its season with a road game today against Winston-Salem State.

The game features two of the top-20 teams in Division II in scoring offense. Led by quarterback Nigel Barksdale and a number of accomplished receivers, Slippery Rock is averaging 45.5 points per game while the Rams are averaging 40.4.

While Winston-Salem State is the defending Division II runner-up, the program has been in the news in the past week after Rams quarterback Rudy Johnson was injured in a fight with Virginia State players at a luncheon for their impending matchup in a conference championship game. Johnson has said that he will play Saturday.

"They know the situation," Mihalik said of his team's tournament mindset. "There are 24 teams, at this point next week there will be 16, so you don't really have to say too much. They know if you win, you continue and if you don't, that's it."

Other games

Washington & Jefferson (8-2) at Mount Union (10-0), noon, Mount Union Stadium -- When discussing Division III football royalty, the conversation begins with the Purple Raiders, who have won 11 NCAA championships since 1993. This season, Mount Union is undefeated, averaging 49.3 points per game and is defeating opponents by an average of 36.7 points.

Presidents coach Mike Sirianni is a Mount Union graduate and was the team's wide receivers coach when it won NCAA titles in 1996 and 1997. He knows the challenge and upset potential that awaits.

"It's a one-game, winner-take-all series," Sirianni said. "With a little luck and a little bounce of the ball the right way, we feel that we can possibly go down there and shock the world."

Presidents quarterback Matt Bliss had a concussion last Saturday against Waynesburg and will be replaced by freshman Pete Coughlin, an Upper St. Clair graduate.

Duquesne (6-4) at Monmouth (6-5), noon, Kessler Field -- The Dukes are out of the running for an Northeast Conference title, but with a win, they would finish in a tie with Sacred Heart for first place in the conference. A victory would also mark the third time in the past four years that Duquesne has won at least seven games.

Robert Morris (5-5, 3-2) at Saint Francis (4-6, 2-3) -- The Colonials' chances of an NEC championship vanished last weekend. With a win they could finish tied for first, but the biggest story will be on the sideline, as longtime coach Joe Walton will be coaching his final game.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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