Red Raiders fall to Golden Rams, 37-27
The Shippensburg University football team faced its first real test on Saturday against West Chester University and the Red Raiders (5-1, 2-1 PSAC East) were sharp on their opening drive, going straight down the field in less than two minutes for a touchdown.
SU quarterback Ryan Zapoticky looked especially sharp on the drive and it looked like the beginning of what could have been a special day for SU.
Instead, the Golden Rams (5-1, 2-0 PSAC East) adjusted quickly and their defense stepped up late, as SU’s 3-of-14 conversion rate on third down and a 63-yard rushing touchdown by West Chester running back Jarel Elder with 4:07 left to play proved to be the backbreaker in SU’s 37-27 loss.
Zapoticky hit four passes in the opening drive, including a 34-yard pass to Cole Chiappialle who ran the ball down to the West Chester 12-yard line before Zapoticky hooked up with wide receiver Charles Headen III for a touchdown.
“We had some things going on out there but later in the game we just couldn’t connect,” SU head coach Mark Maciejewski said. “I want to make sure people understand we did more good than bad, there were just some mistakes that hurt us.”
West Chester marched right back down the field, using an impressive 18-play 79-yard drive to get on the board; however, the Red Raider defense did what it did best, holding the Golden Rams to just three after taking 8:13 off the clock. SU kicker Billy Deane would add a 26-yard field goal to give the Red Raiders a 10-3 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter is what turned the tide for the Golden Rams. SU wide receiver Winston Eubanks showcased his big play capability in the quarter, hauling in a 47-yard pass to the West Chester 31-yard line, but unable to capitalize, SU turned the ball over on downs.
Later in the second, the Red Raiders found themselves backed up in their own territory and Zapoticky made an uncharacteristic mistake, throwing the ball right to West Chester’s Jarey Elder to set West Chester up with remarkable field position. The interception was only Zapoticky’s second of the season.
West Chester’s Jarel Elder wasted no time making the Red Raiders pay by finding the end zone on a 7-yard rushing touchdown on the very next play to give the Golden Rams a 17-10 lead.
The misfortune snowballed for SU as West Chester increased its lead to as much at 17 points after quarterback Paul Dooley found Marcus Snydor for a 41-yard touchdown.
With potentially the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division hanging in the balance, the Red Raiders responded valiantly, scoring 17 unanswered points to surge all the way back to tie the game with 12:18 left to play.
Zapoticky faced endless amounts of pressure on the Red Raiders’ first touchdown drive, but his poise and ability to get outside the pocket proved to be extremely valuable as West Chester had tremendous coverage down field. Zapoticky scampered to his right and found a gaping hole that he followed straight in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.
Less than three minutes later, Zapoticky found Eubanks once again, this time for a 54-yard completion all the way down the 1-yard line. Chiappialle punched in his third touchdown of the season on the next play. Deane launched a 20-yard field goal through the uprights to tie the game.
“I’m proud of those guys. They did fight,” Maciejewski said. “They could have just folded up the suitcase there when West Chester scored in the second half but they kept believing. West Chester is a good football team but I’m not sure we played up to our potential today.”
West Chester added a field goal with 6:44 left to play, but each of the remaining SU possessions stalled out after each looked promising. With just more than four minutes left to play, it seemed like SU’s stout defensive line had Jarel Elder stuffed for a five or six-yard loss, but he quickly regained momentum and made a magnificent cut to get to the sideline. He then sprinted 63-yards for a touchdown, taking the air out of Seth Grove Stadium in stunning fashion.
Elder finished the day with 149 yards and two touchdowns for West Chester, while wide receiver Tyler Karpinski caught eight passes for 130 yards. For SU Zapoticky finished 17-of-40 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
With his 299 yards, Zapoticky passed 1997 graduate Mike Carver for fourth-place for career passing yards at SU. Eubanks currently leads the PSAC receiving yards with 762, yards per catch with 28.2 and receiving yards per game with 127. Eubanks finished on Saturday with seven catches for 176 yards.
With the loss, the Red Raiders no longer control their own destiny when it comes to the PSAC Championship or “state” game, but with SU focusing on improving, the playoffs are not out of reach.
“A lot of people would give a leg to be 5-1 right now,” Maciejewski said. “We’ve got a lot of season left. We just need to get back to work, put another brick in the foundation and keep fighting one game at a time. We just need to take care of business at hand.”
The Red Raiders would benefit from a West Chester loss, but with the Golden Rams holding the tiebreaker, they would realistically need to lose twice while SU would need to win its remaining games to end up in the PSAC title game.
Next week SU heads to Cheyney University to battle a struggling Wolves football team, while West Chester hosts Bloomsburg University. The Red Raiders and Wolves will kick off at 1 p.m. at O’Shields Stevenson Stadium at Cheyney.