CALIFORNIA, Pa. — Despite a furious second half comeback, the Red Raiders’ rally fell short on Saturday as they lost to the California (Pa.) Vulcans, 34-26.
SU (2-1, 0-0) came up empty despite shutting the Vulcans (2-1, 0-0) out in the second half and outgaining them in total yards.
Senior receiver Sheldon Mayer gave the team the spark it needed as he returned a punt for an 82 yard score with 6:38 left in the third. Less than five minutes later, the Red Raiders capped a drive, with Mayer receiving a three-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Zapoticky for the score, cutting the Vulcans lead to 34-23.
After adding a field goal with 6:40 left in the game, the Red Raiders only trailed by eight and had possession on the final drive. After crossing midfield with less than two minutes left, Zapoticky scrambled to the right and forced a throw that was intercepted by Terry with 1:15 left in the ball game.
“We made so many mistakes in the first half. We settled down in the second half, and we knew we could wear them down,” Red Raiders coach Mark Maciejewski said. “We started making some plays and I’m very proud that those guys showed a lot of heart today and didn’t quit after halftime.”
Zapoticky finished the game 33-for-50 with 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Smith led the Red Raiders with 80 yards and a score on the ground, while Mayer was the team’s leading receiver, finishing with 10 catches, 73 yards and a score. The teams combined for 217 penalty yards.
The Vulcans scored early, beginning when running back John Franklin III was able to power his way into the end zone for a two yard score with 10:56 left in the first quarter. However, the Red Raiders were able to recover, scoring their own rushing touchdown from two yards out on a run by Andrew Smith late in the first quarter.
SU kicker Billy Deane gave the Red Raiders a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, and then the momentum shifted the Vulcans’ way. On the ensuing possession, California drove 73 yards in four plays, capping the drive with Franklin III’s second touchdown of the day and giving the team the 14-10 lead. The Red Raiders’ offense came to an abrupt halt as the team struggled with moving the ball. The Vulcans took full advantage, and extended their lead to 13 when quarterback James Harris fired an eight-yard score to receiver Devin Lomax with 5:51 left in the first half. After halting the Red Raiders’ offense again, Harris lofted a beautiful 32-yard arch to receiver Luke Smorey to take a 27-10 lead. On the final play of the first half, the Vulcans’ Aaron Terry returned a punt for a 97-yard score to put an explanation point on the quarter, and give the team a hefty 34-10 lead.
However, the second half was completely controlled by the Red Raiders. Unlike the first half, SU was able to stonewall the Vulcan offense, not allowing them to score in the second half.
Despite the loss, the team should be able to improve and learn from a tough game on the road.
“We challenged them to play with some heart and do what they’re supposed to do, and they responded. I think that the adversity we faced today will pay dividends for us down the road.”
The Raiders resume their season next week when they return to Seth Grove Stadium to face the Bloomsburg Huskies in the first PSAC matchup of the season.