By Chris Mackowiak
What: No. 18 Salisbury football hosts Wesley
When: Saturday at Noon
Where: Sea Gull Stadium
How to watch: online at www.suseagulls.com
A field goal up and good by Salisbury junior kicker Alex Potocko. That was the difference in last year’s game between Salisbury and Wesley. This year, the two teams might come down to the wire again with similar stakes up for grabs.
Salisbury’s victory over the Wolverines last season was their first in the rivalry since 2004; that is how dominant Wesley has been. The Sea Gulls spoiled Senior Day at Drass Field in Dover. This season, Wesley looks to return the favor in what will be a historic match-up in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) race.
“If you want to see college football at its best, two top east region teams will be playing each other. Come out, tell a friend. We need all the support we can get,” SU Head Coach Sherman Wood said.
No. 18 Salisbury University (7-1, 6-1; tied first NJAC)
The Sea Gulls are in the midst of their toughest section of the schedule. Salisbury comes off of a victory at Christopher Newport last Saturday 45-24 in a tale of two halves. The Captains and Sea Gulls went in the locker rooms tied up at 17, but it was a different story with momentum in the second half as Salisbury outscored CNU 28-17.
Now Salisbury looks ahead to the final two games of their schedule against Wesley and Frostburg State. All three of the teams are currently tied for first place in the NJAC.
After their lone loss to Rowan a few weeks ago, SU is flying towards the finish line, putting up impressive numbers and score lines in each contest. Their largest test is coming on Saturday though against a team with their backs against the wall.
Salisbury’s triple option offense continues to provide success. Even when senior quarterback Ryan Jones drops back to pass, the Sea Gulls have found great efficiency on offense.
Most importantly for SU is their offensive line. The entire line made up of five players has started all games together for the Sea Gulls. The group has only allowed five sacks on Jones which is best in the conference and twelfth in the nation, and they are paving the way on the ground for the team to average 393.6 rushing yards per game, second in the nation.
“We’ve all just come together. We all work hard. We all have good athletes behind us, and we have to do what we can make sure they can get the job done for us,” senior right guard Riley Cannon said, who was named the team’s offensive player of the week after the CNU game.
On defense, a win will come down to getting enough pressure on Wesley junior quarterback Nick Falkenberg and covering one of the top wide receiver units in the NJAC.
“[We want to] definitely get back after them, giving them a short time to throw the ball, and causing pressure. If we get pressure on them, that’s going to give the [defensive backs] the time that they need, so that they can get an [INT] or a breakup,” senior defensive end Tyler Paradysz said.
The SU secondary unit is very athletic and has prodded quarterbacks all season. Sophomore free safety Shane Gaines and freshman strong safety Andre Boone will have plenty to deal with throughout the game with Wesley fielding multiple wide receivers that can do damage.
The team has totaled nine interceptions (tied second in NJAC) and possesses a turnover margin of plus three. The problem for the Sea Gulls will be if they can halt Wesley’s spread air attack. Salisbury gives up 191.4 passing yards per game which is next to last in the NJAC.
“This team is real close, a great bound. We’re all close. We all know each other. We all hangout outside of football. I know if we come together this Saturday, then we can win the football game,” Cannon said.
Wesley College Wolverines (6-2, 6-1; tied first NJAC)
The Wolverines lost two of their first three games this season which set them back a long way. However, the team has climbed back into contention over the weeks and holds the tiebreaker over Frostburg State.
With a William Paterson game over the horizon, Wesley’s mindset is that if they win at SU Saturday, then they are taking the NCAA playoff berth and the NJAC title. It is a perfect scenario to crush the hopes of their Route 13 rival too.
After quarterback Joe Callahan left for the NFL last season, Wesley has faced problems at the position. Junior quarterback Dan Kesack took over the role for most of the season with Falkenberg also receiving much time on the field.
Against Montclair State, Kesack did not start or play any minutes in the 37-14 Wolverines’ victory. It is currently unclear if Kesack will play at all Saturday. Falkenberg is listed as the No. 1 in the depth chart.
Having Falkenberg at the starting spot limits Wesley offensively. Despite reasonable numbers from the junior, he has a touchdown to interception ratio of 0.66 and averages 6.7 yards per attempt. Kesack has a touchdown to interception ratio of 1.83 while averaging 9.4 yards per attempt.
“My concern would be the deep ball. We’ve got some small corners. We’re trying to do everything we can to be more physical as much as possible on the receivers to prevent the deep ball,” Coach Wood said.
Senior running back Jamar Baynard will be relied on heavily to support and balance the overall offense. Baynard is a versatile back with good hands to break out of the backfield and involve himself in the receiving game.
Senior wide receiver Bryce Shade and sophomore wide receiver Alex Kemp flank Baynard to the outside and have both been explosive this season. Shade leads the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (736), and all-purpose yards (909, 113.6 per game). Kemp is a close second in the receiving categories, and his kick returning brings him up to third on the team in all-purpose yardage, behind Baynard at second.
“We went over No. 5 (Kemp) and No. 1 (Shade) for this game,” freshman cornerback Keith Payne said. “They have more speed. We really game planned to stay on top of them.”
On defense, Wesley fields a very physical front seven. The team typically plays a 4-3 scheme, but Coach Wood expects to see a few differences to account for SU’s triple option.
“I’m hoping they play a 3-4 because based on our alignment there are already angles. That’s why we have big splits because we space those guys out. If they start crashing, then we simply alter our plans with some other things,” Coach Wood said.
Up front, the Wolverines feature junior defensive end Isaiah Ingram and junior defensive tackle Stephen Yorkman. Yorkman provides the physicality and toughness on the inside. Ingram will put on the quick speed to take down the SU option offense in the backfield. He has tallied 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles, making it a rough go in the backfield.
Junior linebacker Samer Manna, leading the team in tackles, and senior linebacker Ben Robinson feature in the linebacking core. Senior linebacker Roderick Caine is versatile player that can feature at defensive end or line up at linebacker, so he is a player to watch as Wesley tries to figure out SU’s attack.