Zach Zulli read the coverage wrong and threw an ill-fated pass that was sure to have him hearing an ear-full when he reached the sidelines.
However, somehow it was not intercepted.
The ball ricocheted off of cornerback John O’Donnell’s hands, into the air, and into the hands of Trevor Harman for the touchdown.
It has been one of those years for the Shippensburg University football team — a year that destiny seems to be on its side as the Raiders overcame a 21-point deficit in the first quarter to capture a 42-24 victory and spoil the West Chester University Golden Ram’s Homecoming weekend.
The comeback kids, who have not had their backs against the wall since a halftime deficit against Shepherd University in Week 1, showed the resilience that has made them 8-0 on the season — recording their 12th consecutive win dating back from last season.
“It’s [SU] a team that believes in each other, and they play that way,” coach Mark Maciejewski said. “Our guys, hung in there and they never gave up.”
It is a win that will boost momentum heading into the PSAC clash against Bloomsburg University — where the winner will take home the PSAC East crown.
Maciejewski’s Raider squad could have given up after a dismal first quarter, a Rondell White scamper from 17 yards, and a Mike Mattei 77-yard touchdown pass just three minutes later catapulted the Golden Rams to a 14-point lead only eight minutes into the game.
It only got worse for the Raiders that half as the Golden Rams capitalized on a missed field goal by Michael Lloyd from 39 yards out. A 42-yard pass from Mattei to Jim Kelly vaulted WCU to a 21-0 lead. It was a lead that seemed insurmountable to the 6,000 plus fans that packed into John A. Farrell stadium.
But for this Raider team, it was just the time to show how resilient they have become.
The Raiders exploded at the end of the first half as Zulli found Trevor Harman for two scores and Jacob Baskerville for another. The Raiders outscored WCU 21-3 during that 14-minute stretch, but were still trailing by three heading into the half.
In the face of a deficit, the Raider defense took over the second half.
The Raider defense, led by leading tackler Cody Fleming (13), caused four turnovers, including a 77-yard interception return by Tyriq Kershaw.
However, its game-changing performance occurred early in the third quarter.
After an SU three-and-out, WCU’s White broke off a 64-yard run that put the Golden Rams in prime position to add to their lead. However, on four consecutive plays, the defense stood tall and kept the Golden Rams out of the end zone. It was the last time WCU came close.
Chris Lawshe ran for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter and after Zulli’s touchdown pass to Harman, the game was put away. SU tacked on another score late in the game to seal the deal 42-24.
Zulli, despite the slow start, finished the game 29-49 for 342 yards and five touchdowns.
Baskerville added to his impressive stat sheet with 139 yards on nine receptions and one touchdown.
SU hosts the Huskies next Saturday at 1 p.m. Fans are encouraged to wear red for the “Red Out.”