By Zach Gilleland
The No. 18 Salisbury University football was unable to give its seniors a final win at home Saturday, falling to Wesley 44-27 on senior day.
The Sea Gulls defeated the Wolverines 38-35 last season, its first win in the rivalry since 2004. A battle between the top-two offenses in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), Saturday’s game had all the makings of another shootout.
Salisbury’s opening two drives ended up in back-to-back field goals. The offense found success running the ball through the outside lanes, but was unable to reach the end zone.
Wesley (7-2, 7-1 NJAC) answered back with the first touchdown of the game. The Wolverines, behind senior running back Jamar Baynard, used their ground game to open up the pass. That allowed junior quarterback Nick Falkenberg to find sophomore wide receiver Alex Kemp for a 29-yard touchdown.
Both teams proceeded to trade touchdown passes, tying the game at 13. Salisbury (7-2, 6-2 NJAC) looked to regain the lead, but a fumble ended the drive prematurely allowing Wesley’s offense to work with great field position. Baynard would punch it in from 10 yards out just two plays later, giving the Wolverines a 20-13 lead.
On the following drive, a 19-yard run by senior super back Connor Canonico set up the Sea Gulls in a position to tie the game before halftime. Canonico found nothing up the middle, bouncing to the left to find running room.
After a holding penalty negated a would be first down, a long run by senior slot back Ryan Kolb on third-and-long put Salisbury just short of a first down. On fourth down, senior quarterback Ryan Jones found Kolb in the end zone, but the ball went just through the hands of the diving slot back, turning the ball over.
The missed opportunity proved costly for the Sea Gulls as Wesley produced a seven-play, 91-yard drive on the next series to give the Wolverines a 27-13 lead at halftime.
“To me that was the play of the game,” SU Head Coach Sherman Wood said when referencing the incomplete pass on fourth down. “If we went into halftime [tied], it’s 0-0. We had the opportunities, we did some things positive, missed opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.”
Coming out of halftime Wesley continued to roll offensively. Salisbury’s secondary could not stop the pass, surrendering a 27-yard pass from Falkenberg to senior wide receiver Bryce Shade for a Wolverine touchdown. Wesley added a field goal late in the third quarter to extend its lead to 24.
The defense couldn’t adjust, giving up another touchdown pass on a go-route from Shade for 58 yards. After being up 13-7 in the first quarter, the Sea Gulls surrendered 37 consecutive points.
“Defensively we couldn’t stop them and we prepared tremendously all week to do what we were supposed to do,” Coach Wood said. “The bottom line was we didn’t make the plays that were necessary.”
Salisbury scored two late touchdowns from junior super back Malique Pratt and junior slot back Blake Joppy to finish the scoring. Pratt scored off a 1-yard run to give the Sea Gulls its first touchdown in three quarters. Joppy caught an 18-yard pass from junior quarterback Brandon Lewis as time expired.
The Sea Gull offense had a hard time keeping up in the second half. Being down big, Salisbury had to turn away from its bread-and-butter, instead having to rely on the passing game.
The offense was plagued by a number of miscues as penalties and turnovers hurt its chances to get back in the game. The offense had a hard time holding the ball as the Sea Gulls fumbled the ball five times
“I think we kind of beat ourselves,” Kolb said. “Whether it was holding calls here or not coming down with a pass that would have been huge, I think we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had.”
Each scoring possession during the game took less than four minutes and both teams combined for 876 yards of total offense.
The loss puts the Sea Gulls out of the NJAC title picture. Salisbury came into the game tied for first in the conference with Frostburg and Wesley and needing a win against the latter to keep its title hopes alive.
The Sea Gulls look to bounce back against archrival Frostburg Nov. 12. Salisbury defeated the Bobcats 28-27 last season in a thriller at Sea Gull Stadium. A win could give the Sea Gulls an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to focus on beating Frostburg and hopefully we get an at-large bid,” Kolb said. “It’s one game at a time from here.”