By ZACH GILLELAND
With the top spot in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) up for grabs, it can be easy for Salisbury fans to look forward to the next three games where the Sea Gulls face Rowan, Wesley and Frostburg St—three of the premier NJAC schools.
But for SU Head Coach Sherman Wood, he said the team spent time watching more film on Southern Virginia than any team so far this season.
That preparation showed on Saturday as Salisbury (6-1, 6-0 NJAC) shutout the Knights (1-6, 0-5 NJAC) with the defense allowing its least amount of yards since the 2011 season opener against the Apprentice School.
The Sea Gull defense allowed just 126 yards of total offense, holding Southern Virginia to 2.5 yards per rush.
“I am happy they finished up strong and more importantly we kept them off the board,” Wood said. “I think it continues to provide confidence in our defense. We are going to need them down the road so I am really pleased with that. I am really pleased because it was a different kind of offense so they had a different type of challenge.”
The 42-0 victory marked SU’s second-straight shutout against Southern Virginia. In 2015, the Sea Gulls infamously defeated the Knights 91-7 that garnered national attention.
The offense put up 407 total yards, its highest mark since the team’s 63-7 win against William Paterson on Sept. 9. After completing one pass in his previous two games, senior quarterback Brandon Lewis passed the ball effectively Saturday, completing six of nine passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
“The passing game we were struggling a little bit but we found our rhythm today,” Lewis said. “We went back to the three step, the play action opened up for and the offensive line has been doing a great job protecting me, giving me time, I just need to keep staying patient in the pocket and finding open guys and we will have success going forward.”
Salisbury started with a short field on their first possession after senior slot back Blake Joppy took the opening kickoff to the SU 42 yard-line. Lewis scored on a quarterback keeper that capped off a seven-play, 58 yard drive to make it 7-0.
The Sea Gulls found the end zone again in their second possession of the game, this time with Joppy scoring on first and goal. Joppy, in place of Brady Curley who did not play, finished the game with seven carries for 30 yards and a touchdown.
“You have got to step up, that is what we talk about every week,” Joppy said. “Brady is a great player and I am just trying to do my job and make sure we get a [win] on Saturday.”
Salisbury went to the air early in the second quarter. Lewis connected with sophomore wide receiver Damian King for a 19-yard strike that made the game 21-0. King caught two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown, his first two catches of the season.
The maroon and gold continued to wear down the Southern Virginia defense. Lewis scored from six yards out with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter to send the game to halftime with a 28-0 SU lead.
The second half marked an opportunity for Salisbury to get more inexperienced players more playing time. After Lewis scored off a 21-yard scramble to make it 35-0, freshman Jack Lanham relieved the senior at quarterback.
In his first career game, the freshman held his own in the triple option, leading the offense down the field for their final score—an 8-yard end around from junior Brian Hammond. Lanham finished the game with 10 carries for 52 yards and completed two of five passes for 19 yards.
The Salisbury defense shutout the Knights for their first since facing SVU last season. Facing Southern Virginia’s new triple option offense, the Sea Gull defense allowed just 102 rushing yards, closing the running lanes on the edges of the field.
“Physicality, flying to the ball, that is what we talked about all week,” senior defensive back Dakarai Ellis said. “Watching film, [we] made sure we got to the ball, matched their speed and at halftime we made some adjustments.”
Up next: Salisbury stays home to face Rowan on Saturday at 1 p.m.