Preview: Red Raiders prepare for clash with Warriors
Coming into the season, the Shippensburg University football team had high expectations after coming up just short of a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Division title last season.
So far, so good.
The Red Raiders raced to an outstanding 3-0 start, dominating American International College and Clarion University, while outlasting Gannon University in a thrilling 41-33 victory. SU now shifts its focus to East Division play and a familiar foe in East Stroudsburg University.
Last season, the Red Raiders came back from a 14-3 deficit midway through the second quarter and scored 28 unanswered points in a 31-14 victory.
The Warriors enter the game 1-2, looking to grab a victory after an underwhelming performance against Mercyhurst University last week.
“Their backs are against the wall,” SU head coach Mark Maciejewski said. “They’re going to come out and play with passion and play hard. We’ve got to do the same thing. We haven’t come out firing on all cylinders yet, so were going to try and start fast and finish fast.”
Last week, The Red Raiders used a second-half surge to handle Clarion, winning 31-0 behind a career day for quarterback Ryan Zapoticky. Zapoticky threw for 340 yards and two scores last Saturday.
The SU defense pitched a shutout — its first since it blanked Cheyney University 76-0 last season — and will look to limit East Stroudsburg’s premier running back Jaymar Anderson, who is currently second in the PSAC with 407 rushing yards.
“It’s a tough challenge,” Maciejewski said. “He runs hard. He’s not only a downhill runner, but he can get side to side as well. We’re going to have to make sure we’re gap responsible, tackle well and are disciplined.”
The matchup at Eiler-Martin Stadium is the first game between the two teams at Eiler-Martin since SU’s unbelievable 69-67 victory in five overtimes. Maciejewski recalled four games against the Warriors that went to overtime as a player, assistant coach and most recently, as head coach.
“I’d like not to get into that situation again for sure,” Maciejewski said. “It was a long game. I think we’ve been in overtime with them four times. I think I’ve been involved in all four of them. It’s always tough and we just don’t want to be put into an overtime position all the time, that’s for sure.”
With games now counting toward the division record, Shippensburg looks to amplify its one-game-at-a-time mantra.
“Now it matters,” Maciejewski said. “We’re in the Eastern Division now and every game is a championship game and that’s how we’re approaching it. We need to make sure we’re doing the little things. I talked to the players this week about paying attention to detail. That’s the difference between winning and losing this week.”
Kickoff is schedule for today at 2 p.m. at East Stroudsburg.
Last season, quarterback Ryan Zapoticky threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Raider victory over the Warriors. Zapoticky currently leads the PSAC in total offense with 336.7 yards per game. He needs 51 passing yards for 1,000 on the season.
Shippensburg leads the all-time series 32-18-2, entering the 53rd matchup between the two teams.
The five-overtime game in 2015 was the longest game in PSAC history, and still stands as the biggest comeback in SU history. The Red Raiders trailed by more than 21 points on two different occasions. Zapoticky and ESU quarterback Matt Soltes combined for a Division II record 15 touchdown passes in the game.
Shippensburg enters the game leading the PSAC in scoring defense with 13.3 points per game, and has limited opponents to a 40 percent scoring percentage in the red zone.
Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Winston Eubanks is currently tied for first in the PSAC with four receiving touchdowns and leads the PSAC with an average of 138.7 receiving yards per game. He is also seventh in the conference with 17 receptions.
SU has recorded a defensive touchdown in every game so far this season, while Eric Dzieniszewski has recorded an interception in each of SU’s contests. Defensive back Richard Sheler recorded 10 tackles last week in his first game of the season.