By Chris Mackowiak
On a Homecoming Day where clouds and rain started off the game, the eleventh-ranked Salisbury football team took down the College of New Jersey (TCNJ) 41-6. Despite some early turnovers, the Sea Gulls’ defense stepped up to the task and held the Lions to 143 total yards.
The day started off to a rough start for Salisbury (4-0, 3-0) when senior quarterback Ryan Jones fumbled a pitch out to a slot back. The ball bounced back until senior defensive lineman Abdelrahman Ragab pounced on it to get a turnover for the Lions at Salisbury’s own 24 yard line. Abdelrahman led TCNJ (0-4, 0-3) on defense with 12 tackles including three tackles for loss during the game.
On a slant route by senior wide receiver Jeff Mattonelli, TCNJ junior quarterback Trevor Osler found his player for a 16-yard touchdown pass to open up the game. TCNJ’s offense, averaging 3.33 points per game (PPG) entering the game, seemed to be off to a brand new start with just their second touchdown of the season. However, the point after was blocked by Salisbury.
“We took a couple things for granted and that’s what led to those turnovers. However, we did counter and kept our cool and made some big plays defensively,” Salisbury Head Coach Sherman Wood said.
The next two drives for the Sea Gulls ended in touchdowns. The first touchdown was set up by an excellent kickoff return by senior slot back Aarron Moore all the way to TCNJ’s 15 yard line in just his second game of the season. The following play featured a 15-yard touchdown rush on a pitchout to junior slot back Brady Curley. Multiple touchdowns were successful due to blocks by junior wide receiver Brad Rose.
“I really believe Brad [Rose] is the key to our success. He’s a target guy; he’s a big guy. To have someone come at you full steam like that and blocking, that’s really what he should do,” Coach Wood said.
“It worked out well, and I’m real happy for Brad, definitely increasing his confidence level.”
The next Salisbury drive went 68 yards on seven plays to finish with a 23-yard rush in for the score from senior slot back Ryan Kolb to put the Sea Gulls up 14-6. The early offense was an indication of what was to come from the Salisbury rushing attack which finished with 420 yards including 134 yards from their junior super back Connor Canonico.
“We knew what we had to do. We knew we messed up a lot against SVU. We were just very prepared by the coaches and knew what they would run,” Curley said.
The Sea Gulls were facing a TCNJ defense that is considered one of the best in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). Despite a 51-3 loss against DIII powerhouse Wisconsin Whitewater, the Lions’ defense only gave up 16 PPG in their other two games against Kean and Christopher Newport.
Other than strong plays from both Abdelrahman and sophomore linebacker Max Busca, the TCNJ defense could not find a way to stop the explosive attack of Salisbury whether in the air or on the ground.
From there, the Sea Gulls controlled their offense well into the second half. Near the end of the third quarter and backed up toward their own end zone, QB Jones dropped back to pass and found Curley on a slant route on a man-to-man coverage which the slot back broke. Helped by a Rose block along the way, Curley ran the ball down to within the opponents’ five yard line where he was tripped up with a tackle to set up a field goal. At 91 yards, it was the longest pass for Salisbury since 2010.
“It was a great moment. I knew that I had a safety on my back and then broke his tackle right away. I knew I had great blocking up field. I thought he closed [the defender] off, but I just couldn’t beat him to the sideline. But still a great block and run,” Curley said.
Another explosive play featured sophomore wide receiver Sean Rowland’s first touchdown of the season on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Jones to make the game 34-6.
On the defensive side, the Sea Gulls swarmed the Lions all day and did not let the offense get much going. Following a shutout on the road against Southern Virginia, the SU defense used their chemistry and confidence to defeat the Lions.
“We’re just a team defense. There’s not really one man that sticks out for us. This year we became really close as a team. I think that’s really helped,” junior linebacker D.J. Davis said.
Following the win, the Sea Gulls will head out on the road for their next two games against Rowan and William Paterson. As an undefeated team, Salisbury looks to set themselves up well on the road for the end of their conference slate later in the season.
“Definitely a lot of momentum going in 4-0, but we know we left a lot of points unscored that we should have scored and we know we have a lot to improve on,” Curley said.