Story and photo courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletics
ERIE, Pa. - The Mercyhurst University football team put together its most impressive showing of the season on Saturday afternoon, knocking off 22nd-ranked California (Pa.) 40-7 at Tullio Field and earning a share of the PSAC Western Division title. Mercyhurst improved to 8-2 overall and finished the season with a 6-1 conference mark. Meanwhile, the Vulcans dropped to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the western division.
It was California's worst loss to a PSAC opponent since 2003 when it lost to Shippensburg 35-0. It was also Mercyhurst's largest margin of victory against a nationally-ranked opponent - shattering the previous record of 10 points against then #3 California back in 2010. The Lakers won that game 31-21 over the Vulcans.
Mercyhurst earned a share of the western division regular season title with Indiana (Pa.) as both teams finished with identical 6-1 marks in the conference. However, the Crimson Hawks defeated the Lakers in their head-to-head matchup this season, so IUP will play for the conference championship next Saturday against the eastern division champions from Shippensburg. Mercyhurst will play its regularly-scheduled game against East Stroudsburg next Saturday at Tullio Field to wrap up the regular season.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Brown-Dukes continues his attempt at re-writing program history. He finished Saturday afternoon with 21 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns. It was his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. With his two touchdowns, Brown-Dukes established a new school record with 15 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Tim Ruth (1985) and Richard Stokes (2007 and 2008) held the previous record of 13. Brown-Dukes also surpassed Craig Woodard's freshman rushing record with his 124 yards on Saturday. Woodard rushed for 1,166 yards in his rookie campaign back in 1992. Brown-Dukes now has 1,221 rushing yards and needs 93 yards next Saturday to break the school's all-time rushing record of 1,313 yards held by Gerald Anderson in 2010.
The Lakers led 7-0 after the opening quarter and then outscored the Vulcans 24-7 in the second quarter to take a 31-7 lead to the locker room at halftime. Mercyhurst would tack on nine more points in the third quarter for the final margin. The Lakers jumped out to a 28-0 lead with 4:43 left in the second quarter thanks, in part, to two touchdowns in the span of 17 seconds in the second stanza.
After the teams exchanged fumbles in the opening seconds of the contest, Mercyhurst scored the only points of the opening quarter when redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Vendemia threw a perfect strike to senior wide receiver Paris Bruner on a 48-yard touchdown with 8:49 left in the first fifteen minutes. Bruner streaked down the middle of the field, got behind the Vulcan secondary, and was hit in stride by Vendemia in the endzone.
Bruner finished the day with four receptions for 72 yards and the score. His 72 yards on Saturday gives him 1,484 receiving yards for his career, moving him into sixth place on the school's all-time list. He passed Tim Brediger who had 1,481 from 1994-98.
Then, the Lakers exploded for 24 points in the second quarter to blow the game open. Junior running back Allen Jones II got the party started with his sixth rushing touchdown of the season - a one-yard plunge into the endzone, giving the Lakers a 14-0 lead with 12:04 left in the first half. Jones, who had just two carries against IUP two weeks ago and sat out last week against Edinboro due to an injury, finished the day with 37 yards on 11 carries.
Brown-Dukes scored his record-breaking 14th touchdown of the season on a three-yard run with 4:43 left in the second, giving Mercyhurst a 21-0 advantage. Then, on California's first play from scrimmage, Vulcan quarterback Cody Schroeder was picked off by senior Linnell Robinson, who then ran 52 yards down the left sideline and into the endzone for another Laker touchdown just 17 seconds later. It was Robinson's third interception of the season and fifth of his career. It was also Mercyhurst's first pick-six since Bryant Kimball accomplished the feat with a 46-yard touchdown against Shepherd in the NCAA Quarterfinals back in 2010.
California would score its only points of the game with 1:45 left in the first half when Jeff Knox, Jr. scored on a one-yard touchdown run. But, the Lakers would tack on three more points as the half came to a close when junior placekicker Steven Wakefield booted a 44-yard field goal - the second-longest of his career. The drive was aided by a big 42-yard pass play from Vendemia to redshirt freshman Devyn Woods down to the California 16-yard line.
Mercyhurst would continue the barrage when Brown-Dukes scored from 13 yards out with 10:20 left in the third quarter - his second touchdown of the afternoon and his 15th of the season. The drive took three plays when Brown-Dukes carrying the ball on all three plays - a one-yard run, a 39-yard run, and then the 13-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Derrick Fiore fumbled at the California 20-yard line, which was recovered by redshirt freshman T.J. Latimer. It was one of four California turnovers on the afternoon. Despite the great field position, the Lakers were held to a 31-yard field goal by Wakefield, giving the Lakers a 40-7 advantage with 8:20 left in the third quarter. Those would be the final points of the afternoon.
Vendemia, arguably, had his best day of the season. He finished the day 10-of-13 for 191 yards and a touchdown. All of his damage came in the first half, as the Lakers attempted only two passes in the second half - both from redshirt sophomore Alec Swartz. Brown-Dukes had 124 of Mercyhurst's 209 rushing yards on the day. Bruner had four catches for 72 yards while Woods hauled in three passes for 76 yards.
California's offense was held in check for much of the afternoon. Schroeder completed 15-of-34 passes for 133 yards and was picked off twice. Lamont Smith led the rushing attack for the Vulcans with 51 yards on nine carries. Mercyhurst outgained California 400-244 on the day.
Defensively, senior L.J. Stevens had five tackles, one fumble recovery, and one interception to lead the Lakers. Redshirt freshman Niko Otto also had five stops on the day. Brett Diamond and Jason Kates led the Vulcans with eight tackles apiece.
As previously mentioned, Mercyhurst will host East Stroudsburg next Saturday, November 10 to close out the regular season. It will mark the first meeting between the two schools. Mercyhurst will honor its senior cheerleaders and players prior to the kickoff, which is scheduled for 12:00 noon from Tullio Field.