By ZACH GILLELAND
Under the bright skies and bright lights, Sea Gull Stadium will play host to two match-ups on Saturday. First, the Salisbury football team will play host to William Paterson at noon. Then, field hockey will face Messiah in the prime time game at 6 p.m.
Wednesday’s contest vs Stevenson was supposed to mark the Sea Gulls’ first home match-up of the season. After rain soaked the turf and postponed the game, SU will face off with a familiar foe from a season ago.
The No. 3 Salisbury University field hockey team meets the defending-Division III National Champion and first-ranked Messiah. The Sea Gulls played the Falcons last season in Mechanicsburg, Pa. with Messiah coming out on top 3-2.
One of the top tests for the maroon and gold this season, the Falcons enter Saturday’s contest with 24-consecutive wins under their belt with the only loss coming from Division II school Shippensburg.
Salisbury tries its luck facing a Messiah defense that did not allow a single shot to Ursinus in a 3-0 win on Wednesday. All new-look offense, SU put up four goals in its first two games against King’s College (Pa.) and Misericordia.
With three goals in her first two games, the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) named sophomore forward Rachel Domanico its offensive player of the week. Even though the team carries 16 underclassmen on the roster, the youth movement has worked in SU’s favor as seven of the eight goals scored by Salisbury has come from an underclassman.
It has been another strong start for the Sea Gulls defensively as the team has yet to allow a goal this fall. One of the nation’s top defenses, Salisbury has shut out opponents 14 times in the past two seasons.
The SU defense will have its work cut out for them facing a Messiah offense that returns four of its five top goal scorers from last season.
A Fresh Start
The smell of charcoal and the sizzle of a fresh patty searing on the grill means one thing, tailgating season and the return of Salisbury football at Sea Gull Stadium.
Off the heels of a tough loss at Albright, in the form of a 38-35 overtime finish, the maroon and gold will try to right the ship against a team searching for their own identity—New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) foe William Paterson.
A question for the team heading into the season was how well the offense would produce with many starters departing from last year. The offense held its own, tallying 433 yards including 270 on the ground.
Senior quarterback Brandon Lewis threw for 163 yards, throwing a touchdown and adding two more with his feet.
Junior wide receiver Brian Hammond had a career game against Albright, catching two passes for 68 yards. Hammond’s first career catches helped the Sea Gulls tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The junior, having fought his way through the depth chart for playing time, said he was emotional after his two big catches.
“I couldn’t even put it to words,” Hammond said. “Ask some of the players on the sideline, I almost broke down and cried after those two plays.”
Salisbury hopes to keep its offensive rhythm going as the team faces a William Paterson team that allowed 45 points to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
A run-first offense, SU will look to attack the ground against the Pioneers. William Paterson allowed 332 rushing yards to RPI.
Like most teams, Salisbury tends to play better defense at home. In 2016, opponents scored five fewer points against SU at Sea Gull Stadium.
Sophomore linebacker Harold Kwigova led the team with five tackles against Albright and senior cornerback Mark Davis intercepted a pass. The pass rush will look to improve as SU failed to record a sack and had only two tackles for a loss.
A name to look out for is freshman cornerback Xavier Harkum. SU head coach Sherman Wood said he was impressed with the freshman in his first career game.
“What he brings to the table is work ethic and energy,” Wood said. “If he’s beaten, that receiver is going to earn it.”
The Pioneers will be searching for a new identity for themselves. The 2017 season hasn’t fared too kindly as William Paterson failed to register a point and only mustered five first downs.