Story and photo courtesy of Gannon Athletics
– The Gannon football team has knocked off a nationally-ranked opponent late in the season for the second time in three years. The Golden Knights rallied from a 20-7 halftime deficit and defeated No. 14 Slippery Rock Saturday afternoon before 1,750 fans on Senior Day at Gannon University Field.
The victory was Gannon's third consecutive decision against Slippery Rock, who may have taken a big blow to its postseason hopes with the setback. The Rock entered the contest 14th in latest American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) national poll and sixth in the latest NCAA Division II Super Region One rankings. Six teams in the region will qualify for the NCAA Division II Tournament at the end of the regular season. However, the Rock will still compete in next week's Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championship game at Kutztown.
For Gannon, it represented the second time in three years the program took down a nationally-ranked team in the closing weeks of the regular season. The Golden Knights last did it November 7, 2009 with a 10-7 overtime victory at 19th-ranked Bloomsburg.
Saturday's contest turned in the second half with an entire team effort. Down 20-7 at halftime, Gannon posted its largest second-half comeback since overcoming a 19-0 halftime deficit en route to a 22-19 victory at Shippensburg on September 11, 2010.
On a day when 17 seniors were honored prior to the last home game of their collegiate careers, Gannon made it known immediately after the second-half kickoff it would not go easily. The Golden Knights marched 79 yards on 10 plays during their opening drive, culminating with six-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Tapscott (Beltsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) to Lawrence Coleman (Warren, Ohio/Warren G. Harding) in the back of the end zone. The drive was aided by a Slippery Rock personal foul penalty on the first play and a pair of pass interference calls on the Rock secondary trying to contain Coleman on the outside.
The Gannon defense was superb in the second half and forced a three-and-out on Slippery Rock's first possession after the break. Meanwhile, the Gannon offense remained red hot. This time, the Golden Knights needed only four plays and 1:29 to tie the score. Tapscott had a 26-yard pass to Coleman and a 29-yarder to Jonathon Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas), before hitting Evan Twombly (Baldwinsville, N.Y./Baldwinsville) on a fade to the corner of the end zone from 11 yards out. The score tied the contest at 20 with 7:06 left in the third quarter, but the Golden Knights failed to take the lead after a bobbled snap on the extra point.
Gannon used turnovers to tack on the next 13 points with a pair of field goals and a touchdown. The Golden Knights first took possession on the Rock 25-yard line after Jimmy Zubik muffed a fair catch and Joe Sobucki (Girard, Pa./Girard) recovered the loose ball. The home squad picked up one first down, before Matt Szczupakowski (Spencerport, N.Y./Churchville-Chili) booted a 25-yard field goal for a 23-20 lead at the 13:21 mark of the final quarter.
Errick Clark Jr. (Melbourne, Fla./Melbourne) thwarted the next Slippery Rock drive three plays in with his second interception of the season. The pick set Gannon up at the Rock five-yard line, but the drive stalled and resulted in a Szczupakowski 24-yarder for a 26-20 lead with 9:33 remaining.
On the next offensive play, Zubik fumbled a handoff exchange when Cory Borden (Twinsburg, Ohio/Twinsburg) provided pressure and eventually recovered the loose ball at the Rock's 33-yard line.
Jansen Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Penfield) picked up 10 yards on a pair of carries, before Coleman made a highlight reel catch in the back of the end zone. After two officials discussed the play, the 23-yard connection from Tapscott was ruled a touchdown. It capped a stretch of three consecutive scores off turnovers and gave the Golden Knights a 33-20 lead with 8:25 left in the game.
The 14th-ranked Rock made one last push. On SRU's next possession, quarterback Cody Endres completed four passes while leading the squad 62 yards in 2:24 for a touchdown. The drive included a 20-yard pass from Endres to Mike Bongivengo on fourth-and-15. Derek Durand's 13-yard catch capped the possession, bringing the Rock within 33-27 at the 5:52 mark.
Gannon was able to eat up 3:01 with five straight running plays on the ensuing possession, before giving Slippery Rock another chance at its 26-yard line with 2:42 left.
An Endres 11-yard scramble picked up a first down on the first play, but four straight incomplete passes ended the drive. The Rock managed to get the ball back one more time at its 20-yard line with 23 seconds left and no time-outs. However, Jon Petrigac's (Pittsburgh, Pa./Central Catholic) interception with 12 seconds remaining sealed the deal. It was the end to a tough day for the University of Connecticut transfer who finished 22-of-49 with three interceptions.
The Gannon defense harassed the Slippery Rock offense Saturday afternoon, picking off three passes and causing five turnovers for the second time this season. The Golden Knights also performed the feat during a 37-13 victory against Lock Haven.
The trio of Jones, Tapscott and Coleman dominated the offensive headlines. Jones produced his first career 100-yard game with 128 yards on 29 carries. Tapscott finished with a career-high four touchdowns, connecting on 13-of-33 passes for 188 yards.
Coleman hauled in six of those passes for 92 yards and three touchdowns. The performance gave the senior wide-out nine receiving touchdowns this season, breaking the school's single-season record of seven set by Pat Cain in 2003. It was also his second three-touchdown game of the season. He also recorded the hat trick during a 30-27 victory at Mercyhurst.
Defensively, Randy Colling (Arcade, N.Y./Pioneer) reached double digits in tackles for the fourth time this season and third time in the last four games with 10 stops. The senior defensive lineman recorded six tackles in the second half with two of those resulting in a loss.
Mike Schweisthal (Strongsville, Ohio/St. Edward) and Bryan Kelly (Aurora, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) had great Senior Days with seven tackles each. Clark also added seven stops.
Slippery Rock held advantages in total yards (384-324), passing yards (272-188), first downs (23-21) and time of possession (30:15-29:33) despite the loss. Gannon held the upper hand in rushing yards (136-112) and turnovers (5-2).
Gannon snapped a brief two-game losing streak, improving to 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the PSAC Western Division. Slippery Rock dropped to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play. The Golden Knights conclude the regular season Saturday, November 12 at C.W. Post. Game time is scheduled for 12 noon. The squad was originally scheduled to play at Kutztown, but its opponent was switched when the Golden Bears clinched a spot in the PSAC Championship.