By Chris Mackowiak
With Homecoming Weekend ahead, all eyes turn towards the Salisbury athletic events this Saturday. Sea Gull Stadium will play host to two of the four matchups featuring Sea Gull squad. Salisbury Football will fill the venue in the early afternoon for a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) game, and then the sun will set on a Top-20 ranked battle for the Salisbury field hockey team in the evening.
Football: #13 Salisbury (3-0, 2-0) vs. TCNJ (0-3, 0-2) @ 1pm
The Salisbury football team soars into this week following their 35-0 win on the road at Southern Virginia last weekend. The win continued the Sea Gulls’ undefeated season with a strong defensive performance against the Knights. Despite a slow start with no points scored in the first quarter, Salisbury’s offense hit the gas pedal in the last four minutes of the 1st half with three touchdowns scored in that time frame including a 48-yard pass from senior quarterback Ryan Jones to freshman wide receiver Damien King.
This weekend, the Sea Gulls welcome in the TCNJ Lions who have been covered with offensive issues since the start of the season. While the Lions do not have a win on the schedule yet, their record does not reflect the talent of the team, especially on defense.
Other than a 51-3 loss on the road to Division III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater, TCNJ’s defense has been one of the best in the NJAC. Taking away those 51 points, the Lions would have a scoring defense of 16 points per game (PPG), instead of their present total of 28 PPG.
Their other two games, both within the NJAC, were losses to Kean (16 to 7) and #24 Christopher Newport (17 to 0). Prior to the game, CNU had been one of the most potent offenses in the NJAC. The Lions held the Captains to just 252 total yards and 2 for 10 on third down. Seven of CNU’s points also were on an interception return for a touchdown with two minutes remaining in the game.
The TCNJ offense, averaging only 3.33 PPG, features a dual quarterback system, in which their top two quarterbacks sophomore Riley Sullivan and junior Trevor Osler each see considerable playing time. Because of a very young and inexperienced offensive core, the team has had issues getting the production going in the 2016 season. One dynamic player that might spark a moment in the game is senior wide receiver Jeff Mattonelli who also is the punt returner on the team.
Salisbury will need to get off to a faster start than last week vs. SVU. For any hopes of an upset, TCNJ will need to pitch a shutout on defense to give their offense a shot. Rainy conditions should keep the ball on the ground for both teams, which favors the Sea Gulls and their triple option attack.
One noteworthy fact is the pedigree of the visiting head coach Rocky Hager. Hager is the interim head coach for TCNJ but do not let the title suggest inexperience. The TCNJ head coach has been a coach on teams at all three major levels of college football. Hager’s coaching experience includes time at Temple University, Northeastern, and North Dakota State, where he won two Division II National Titles as head coach in 1988 and 1990.
Field Hockey: #4 Salisbury (7-1) vs. #17 Mary Washington (6-3) @ 7pm
Following a 3-1 win over TCNJ at home last weekend, the Salisbury field hockey continues to become stronger and stronger as the season goes on. TCNJ came to Salisbury as a Top-10 team for their match-up. Despite the game seeming to have larger disadvantage, the Sea Gull defense was forced to bunker in against the Lions. TCNJ fired 14 shots at Salisbury junior goalkeeper Tressie Windsor with only one getting by her in the second half.
Salisbury leads the NJAC in defense, having only given up six goals this season alongside a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.75. It has been a tough schedule for the Sea Gulls too. TCNJ was the second Top-10 match-up for the team. The first was a game on the road at then-No. 8 Messiah, which ended as a 3-2 defeat for the Sea Gulls. After their win a few weeks ago, Messiah College has catapulted to the No. 1 ranking in the latest poll.
Having their only loss being to the No. 1 team in the nation, Salisbury has a stellar resume headed into Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) play against No. 17 Mary Washington.
The Eagles enter with three losses, but they hold their ranking because of the difficulty of their schedule. Mary Washington’s losses have been to Tufts, Franklin & Marshall, and Rochester (NY). These teams are all currently ranked at No. 6, 5, and 9 respectively. Now heading into a fourth matchup against a Top-10 team, the Eagles look to use their experience to pull a major CAC upset on the road.
For an upset, the positive working in favor of the Eagles is that their offense can keep up with Salisbury’s attack as both teams average about 4.6 goals per game. However, the defensive statistics paint a different picture. Mary Washington gives up about 0.63 more goals per game than SU.
Therefore, the Eagles must be nearly perfect on defense against the Sea Gulls to win a close match. Salisbury has tallied more than seven penalty corners and 19 shots in each of their games other than the Messiah loss, when they recorded just four penalty corners and seven shots. Forcing Salisbury to capitalize with each possession and shot hampers the Sea Gulls.
In contrast to Salisbury’s multiple attackers, the Sea Gulls can focus on one main Mary Washington player that all of their offense goes through: freshman midfielder Lauren Hopkins. Hopkins is second in the CAC in all offensive statistical categories, and she is definitely someone to look to potentially lead the Eagles to an upset if it occurs.
If Salisbury has plenty of offensive opportunities by halftime, it will be easy to tell that they are controlling the game and on their way to their first conference victory of the year. If the Sea Gulls have limited chances by halftime, the Mary Washington defense should be doing enough to pace with the Sea Gulls offense. It that case it will be a CAC nail-biter in Sea Gull Stadium.