By Zach Gilleland
Behind a strong running game and stout defense, the Salisbury University football team defeated Kean University 36-14 Saturday.
Coming off a 77-19 win against William Patterson, it seemed impossible for the Sea Gulls (6-1, 5-1) to top last week’s performance. Behind NCAA Division III’s second-ranked rushing offense, Salisbury’s triple option attack went to business against a Kean (3-4, 2-4) defense ranked seventh in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
After the defense forced a three-and-out on Kean’s opening drive, the Sea Gull offense scored on its own opening drive. Salisbury found an early rhythm on offense with a 29-yard run by senior super back Connor Canonico that set up Salisbury deep in Cougar territory. Senior quarterback Ryan Jones then found junior wide receiver Josh McClain for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Sea Gulls a 7-0 lead.
The offense found the end zone again in the first half with junior slot back Brady Curley scoring off a 2-yard run. A late field goal by junior kicker Alex Potocko gave Salisbury a 16-0 lead going into halftime.
Behind the legs of Canonico and senior slot back Ryan Kolb, the Sea Gulls extended its lead in the second half. The difference in running styles benefitted Salisbury with Canonico bruising his way up the middle and fighting for tough yards, while Kolb used his speed to bounce to the outside, finding open running lanes.
“It started up front with the offensive line. They really got on their guys and were able to create holes for us. On the perimeters you had slot receivers getting key blocks and once one thing was going with our offense we would cut back and do something different and the defense had no idea what was going on,” Canonico said.
Canonico, Kolb and Curley accounted for 405 of Salisbury’s 457 rushing yards. Kean’s defense could not contain the Sea Gull rushing offense, giving up over 8 yards-per-carry.
“We pretty much took what they gave us and tried to keep them off balance a little bit. I think that was important because they’re huge, they’re big. I thought our offensive coordinator did a great job at keeping them off balance and I thought that was a key to the game. Our slots did a really good job at taking care of business when they had the football,” Salisbury Head Coach Sherman Wood said.
Kean scored late to make it a two-possession game in the fourth quarter, but a 12-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Brandon Lewis sealed a 36-14 win.
“Overall we played well, I liked the effort, what we showed today, that’s what we talked about all week. I thought it was important to make sure we put forth tremendous effort. Our defense gave up a few points here and there but again I saw that the communication was much better,” Coach Wood said.
The Cougars made changes at quarterback throughout the game, alternating between juniors Zach Rodriguez and Charles App. No matter the quarterback, the Sea Gulls continued to apply pressure and finished with six tackles for loss.
“Without [Kean’s] quarterbacks I think that we would have had a shutout,” Coach Wood said. “I thought we kept them in check most of the time and offensively we scored a couple of times and put them in a situation where they had to throw the ball a little bit more than they wanted to.”
Senior outside linebacker Dominic Fabrizio led the defense with eight tackles, and linebackers D.J. Davis and Harold Kwigova each provided a sack. The Sea Gull defense held Kean’s offense in check, allowing just 271 yards.
A pyrrhic victory of sorts, starting quarterback Ryan Jones was injured late in the fourth quarter and did not return to the game. Wood said the team will learn more of the extent of Jones’ injury on Monday.
With three games remaining, the Sea Gulls will next face Christopher Newport in a NJAC matchup on Oct. 29. Salisbury will look to carry the momentum sustained in Saturday’s win, as its next three opponents have a combined 16-5 record. With the win, Salisbury moves into a tie for first place in the NJAC with Wesley and Frostburg State.
“The win gave us a tremendous amount of momentum,” Canonico said. “We can’t lose [another] game and this victory made us [hungrier]. Especially with a loss we had to CNU last year, we really want revenge on that.”