As the players trudged toward the sideline after a demoralizing defeat in the PSAC Championship game to Indiana University of Pa., the Shippensburg University football team stood devoid of any emotion as the band played the alma mater.
Expressionless. The Raiders stood in front of the band, but, in reality, they were not there. This squad was completely different from what they have demonstrated all season. They were slow off the ball. They were subject to stupid penalties. They were dropping passes and forcing errant throws.
No. This team that stood on the sideline at IUP was not the Raiders at all.
Luckily, SU will have a chance to redeem itself when the Bloomsburg University Huskies travel into Seth Grove Stadium in Game 1 of the Raiders’ national championship dream.
The Huskies come into the game looking to avenge the 49-42 loss to SU just two weeks ago — a game in which BU fans and players stood in disbelief as Bryan Barley raced like a child on Christmas morning to the sidelines with the game-winning catch.
It was a win that brought the PSAC East title to SU for the first time since 2009 and cemented a season in which the Raiders have torn up record books and stat sheets.
The Huskies fought valiantly, relying on Franklyn Quiteh’s 270 yards to make a 35-point comeback in the second half. It ultimately fell short, but BU and many others learned a lot about this Raider team after its loss to IUP.
First, SU can be exploited on the ground. The team came into the contest against IUP letting up over 120 yards per game — 27th in the nation. The PSAC title game did not help out its average as the Raiders let up another 200 plus yards on the ground. The defense has been known for making big stops, but the last month has shown that it has been porous at times.
Second and most importantly, getting pressure on Zach Zulli is critical in ensuring a win. Zulli looked completely off target in Saturday’s loss, throwing for only 200 yards and completing only 17 of his 42 passes. He was sacked twice and had numerous instances where he was pressured to force bad throws.
But, what will we see from the Raiders this week? Will we see the 10-0 team or will we see the one that struggled mightily this week?
For the second time in a month, the Raiders will host its biggest game since 2009. It is “Game of the Week” part II. Head coach Mark Maciejewski stressed staying in the same routine this week. That routine has led them to 10 wins and a gaudy stat sheet.
The loss may be good for the Raiders. Under Maciejewski, SU has come back from defeats and pummeled its opposition the next week — including a 49-7 thrashing of Kutztown University after a loss to LIU Post last season.
Also, SU still boasts the No. 1 offense in the nation and with a gut-check under its belts, the SU campus should see a team that is back in form. The Raiders have seen what can happen when they are not sharp. They have tasted the bitterness of defeat and should rebound against the Huskies. *SU rebounds from last week and wins 35-27. *