John O’Donnell’s first game of the 2011 season for the West Chester University football team couldn’t have happened at a better time.
The Golden Rams’ junior safety missed the first two games of the season due to ongoing issues with his knee. O’Donnell returned to the lineup on Saturday in a big way, recording his second two-interception game of his Golden Ram career as West Chester defeated Slippery Rock 20-13 in front of 2,756 fans.
“I was a little frustrated in the first half,” O’Donnell said of his first game back. “The coaches drew up a good scheme” which paid dividends as the game progressed.
“The defense won this game,” West Chester head coach Bill Zwann said. “Not having [O’Donnell] at times hurts us defensively.”
The special teams also showed up at key spots during the game. Jackson Fagan returned a punt 49 yards for a touchdown, while the Rams blocked a field goal attempt and an extra point try.
The Rams defense, however, proved to be up to the task. West Chester’s defense recorded four sacks of Slippery Rock quarterback Cody Endres; Lew Esposito registered a career-high 1.5 sacks in the game. The Rams registered 10 tackles for loss.
“West Chester gave a great effort,” said Slippery Rock head coach Dr. George Mihalik. “We didn’t.”
The Rams defense held All-American candidate Satterfield to 42 net rushing yards for the game. It was the fourth time in the past two seasons in which Satterfield was held to under 100 yards. The Rock lost all three previous games – all three of which, like Saturday’s game, were on the road.
“Our defense always comes ready to play,” said White, whose touchdown catch from McCartney marked the third straight game the sophomore from West Chester’s Bayard Rustin High School reached the end zone.
West Chester’s defense rendered Satterfield, regarded as one of the top running backs in the nation, so ineffective, that the junior All-PSAC West selection from last season spent the final 18 minutes of the game on the bench in favor of Jimmy Zubik.
“Satterfield is still our guy,” Mihalik said. “(Zubik) has a different style, and I thought it would give us a spark.”
It appeared to work, as Zubik replaced Satterfield in the last drive of the third quarter. Zubik, a redshirt sophomore, single-handedly got The Rock to within seven points of the Rams.
On The Rock’s final scoring drive, Zubik ran for 36 yards on the last six plays of the third quarter, culminating in his 12 yard touchdown catch from Endres 10 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Rock hurt their cause with several dropped passes, the two blocked kicks and penalties at inopportune times.
“When you play a team like West Chester, you can’t make mistakes,” Mihalik said. “We put so many challenges on ourselves.”
It’s not to say that the Golden Rams played flawlessly.
Neither Sean McCartney nor Matt Carroll were impressive statistically against a Slippery Rock defense which held the Rams to 168 yards passing.
“I didn’t think either one played good,” Zwann said.
McCartney finished with 143 yards on 7-for-18 passing and a first quarter touchdown pass to Rondell White on the Rams first offensive play to answer The Rock’s opening drive, where Akeem Satterfield scored from one yard out. Nick Garcia blocked Kurt Brackman’s PAT attempt.
Carroll, meanwhile, saw limited action against The Rock, completing only one of his five pass attempts and rushing for eight yards on eight attempts after leading the Rams in rushing in the first two games of the season.
Penalties also hurt the Rams, who were flagged nine times for 91 yards.
“I’m at my wits end,” Zwann said. “We’ve done everything you can imagine” to cut down on penalties “but it still occurs.”
Regardless, “we needed this one badly,” Zwann added. “No matter how ugly it is, a win is still a win.”