By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
After facing one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Albright’s Mike Knight in week one, the Salisbury football team welcomed in Montclair State and their west coast-style offense for their first New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) game of the season.
Unlike Albright’s spread and passing offense, Montclair’s run-oriented pro-style attack featured moderate passing. This meant that the Sea Gulls’ front seven on defense was called on to halt the Red Hawks.
On their way to the 40-20 victory, the Sea Gulls’ triple option offense got things going early with two touchdowns on their first two drives. Salisbury (2-0, 1-0 NJAC) capped off their opening 66-yard drive with an eight yard rush by junior super back Connor Canonico, who also punched in the second touchdown of the day from one yard out.
“A lot of plays, [the defensive lineman] would crash down on me which left [quartervack Ryan] Jones open. I feel like their main goal was to try and take me out of the equation,” Canonico said.
Montclair State seemed to be ready to run up the score when senior running back John DiStefano ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive. However, the Salisbury defense didn’t allow Montclair State’s offense into SU territory for the rest of the first half. MSU freshman quarterback Ryan Adzima faced pressure all day from Salisbury’s linebackers and defensive linemen which totaled one sack, two tackles for a loss and five hurried throws.
“The biggest thing was that we had a good week in practice. We really got after it finally because the first week we weren’t getting after it. We were actually getting pushed. Us getting the push really causes havoc in the backfield and then the linebackers can make their reads,” senior defensive end Tyler Paradysz said.
To cap off a strong offensive first half, senior quarterback Ryan Jones connected with junior wide receiver Brad Rose for a 10-yard touchdown pass which included a strong block from fellow wide out Josh McClain. The touchdown put Salisbury up 21-7 at the half.
“[Brad Rose] came up with some big catches as well as some good blocking down the road. So, I’m just happy for him. I just hope he keeps it up. Our guys on the perimeters did a pretty good job blocking,” Head Coach Sherman Wood said.
In the second half, the Sea Gulls’ offense didn’t let up the option attack with three separate touchdown runs to cap off drives. Leading the rushing attack was Jones with 159 yards along with one touchdown. All three starting backs chipped in with over 70 yards apiece from Canonico, and slot backs Ryan Kolb and Brady Curley.
“I have to give credit to the offensive line because they set the hole a few yards in front of me, and after that, I just move my feet and try to get as many yards as possible,” Canonico said.
After a few early completions, Adzima found some confidence early in the third quarter. However, one deep throw later, it was Salisbury’s sophomore free safety Shane Gaines that came up with a diving interception to get back the Sea Gulls’ momentum.
Adzima, who finished with 198 yards passing for two touchdowns, finally got into a rhythm late in the second half with two touchdown passes both over 30 yards finding wide receivers Julanee Prince and Kyiese Lopez. But, it was too little, too late for the Montclair quarterback.
Similar to his first game performance against Fairleigh Dickinson, DiStefano ran for 106 yards and one touchdown, with the Sea Gulls’ defense taming him after his opening touchdown.
“You had to be careful with [DiStefano] not to over pursue and really take a flat angle on it. Him being a bouncy running back at first was pretty tricky, but once we got the hang of it to actually pursue flat down the line, we were good,” Paradysz said.
Because of Salisbury’s backfield pressure and option attack, they subdued Montclair State for most of the afternoon. In last year’s game against the Red Hawks, the Sea Gulls put up over 350 yards. They would top that today with 461 yards rushing, putting up a total offense of 569 yards.
“We felt that the perimeters were maybe something we could take advantage of. We felt number one if we really did some things inside first, then we knew the perimeters were there,” Wood said.
The offense was very efficient also, improving their third down conversion percentage from 40 to 80 percent. On the other side of the ball, the defense only let up 293 total yards.
Now after starting the NJAC season with an undefeated record, Salisbury will head southwest next week to play Southern Virginia on the road to try and extend to 3-0 overall. Last year, the game against SVU became infamous with Salisbury putting up a school-record 91-7 victory.