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This year, however, Slippery Rock's pride took a severe beating on the football field. The team lost four of its first five games.
"When we're weak it's hard for us to win," Joe Pekar said. "They all love to beat us. I guess it's because we're Slippery Rock." Like Notre Dame, Slippery Rock's reputation can be a millstone around its neck.
Last Saturday powerful Clarion State came to town, a strong favorite to win. In an effort to confuse Clarion's powerful offense, Coach Chester Stackhouse of Slippery Rock devised a radical defensive pattern based on, of all things, a three-man line. Five linebackers would play close behind the line and charge inside or outside in any one of a half-dozen variations.
Stackhouse introduced his team to the new defense on Tuesday and worked on it in practice all week. On Saturday the players were in uniform at noon, cramped behind desks in a classroom as Stackhouse went over the defenses on a blackboard. At one they were on the leaf-littered campus lawn, banging against each other in light contact work.
A few minutes before two, the team left the lawn and filed across campus to Thompson Field. "Let's go, Rockets," a student yelled. "An upset!"
There was no upset, though for a few minutes it seemed as if there might be: the unorthodox defense was stopping Clarion. But victory depended on driving, spirited play, and three jarring, bad breaks crushed that spirit. A touchdown on an intercepted pass was called back because of a clipping penalty. A beautiful punt to the one-yard line was wasted when another clipping penalty on the return punt sent Slippery Rock back to its own 38. There, they lost the ball on a fumble on first down, and two plays later Clarion scored.
Slippery Rock had a couple of good moments after that—the offense got rolling for a few plays—but for all intents and purposes the game was over. It was all Clarion: 7-0 at the quarter, 14-0 at the half, 30-0 at the third quarter, 36-0 at the end.
With 57 seconds to go, Joe Pekar came out of the game. Football may not be as important at Slippery Rock as it is at some high schools, but nobody likes to lose. Pekar sat down heavily on the bench, his face filthy with dirt and sweat, his eyes heavy with fatigue and defeat. A student trainer armed with sponge and towel silently mopped off his face and head.
"How do you feel, Joe?" someone asked.
Pekar lifted his head and shrugged his shoulders.