After building a 21-point lead on a third quarter touchdown reception by wide receiver Kyle Haines, Shippensburg University’s football team was well on its way to its first road win of the young season at Gannon University.
In the fourth quarter, Gannon (1-1) came charging back. The Red Raiders (2-0) held on for a 41-33 win, but it did not come easy.
SU got things rolling early in the first quarter, when linebacker Tyler Emge intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown, giving SU an early 7-0 lead. Later in the first, quarterback Ryan Zapoticky connected with redshirt-freshman wide receiver Winston Eubanks for a 30-yard touchdown, to put the Red Raiders up 14-6.
The Red Raiders dominated the second quarter as well, adding two more touchdowns on a 3-yard rush by running back Cole Chiappialle and Zapoticky once again connected with Eubanks, this time from 38-yards out, to put the Red Raiders up 27-13. Haines’ touchdown put the Red Raiders up 21 points in the third quarter.
The Golden Knights still trailed by 21 with more than nine minutes remaining in the game, before Gannon answered with a touchdown, as the dangerous Golden Knight running back Marc Jones broke off a 53-yard run to cut SU’s lead to 41-27.
Less than two minutes later, Gannon scored again after blocking an SU punt, which Gannon’s Jeremiah Brennin recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, making it an eight-point game with a little more than six minutes to play.
The Red Raiders went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, giving the Golden Knights a chance to tie the game. Gannon drove the ball all the way to the Red Raider 17-yard line, but the drive was ended by a clutch interception by Eric Dzieniszewski to end the Golden Knight scoring threat. The interception was Dzieniszewski’s second in as many weeks.
“D.Z. (Dzieniszewski) did a great job on that play when they got the ball in the red zone to act like he was pressing and backed out of it when they threw the fade,” SU head coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski said. “It was a great job by him.”
SU once again took over on offense, but Gannon stood tough once again, forcing another Billy Deane punt to give Gannon one last chance with 2:41 remaining.
Led by a poised quarterback in Zach Phillips, the Golden Knights marched right down the field after Phillips hit four-of-five passes to drive Gannon deep into SU territory. Phillips then connected with wide receiver Brendan Klemensic to back the Red Raiders up to their own 3-yard line with a minute remaining.
On the next play, SU got the break it needed.
Phillips struggled to control the snap, losing the football, allowing junior defensive end Richard Nase to recover the ball and ice the victory for the Red Raiders.
“When they got the ball down to the 3-yardline late, we changed some things up and allowed Nase to go down hard inside and he struggled to decide if he was going to give the ball or keep it and he ended up dropping the ball,” Maciejewski said. “Fortunately, Nase fell on it and it worked out well for us.”
Nase, alongside teammate Austin Rosenberry, gave Phillips headaches all day, as they each sacked the Gannon quarterback once, and teamed up for a third sack.
“There was good and bad in the fourth quarter,” Maciejewski said. “The bad part was we let some scores up and struggled offensively, but in the end, we faced that adversity and came out on top. We fought through adversity and stuck together and I’m really proud of that.”
Overall, it was a great day for the Red Raider offense, as Zapoticky finished the day 17-of-31 for 267 yards and three scores. Eubanks again demonstrated great chemistry with Zapoticky, hauling in six passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
“We have quite a few weapons on offense right now,” Maciejewski said. “Zap is throwing the ball really well and making good decisions. Winston is a tall receiver with some speed and great hands. Cole continues to run hard and is a threat catching the ball as well.”
Chiappialle finished with 94 yards on the 31 carries — the most an SU running back has had in a single game since John Kuhn did so in 2004. Chiappialle finished with 189 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns. The Red Raiders finished the game with 401 total yards of offense.
SU struggled to contain Gannon’s star running back Jones at times, but limited him to 150 yards and two touchdowns, after he ran for more than 200 yards and three scores last week.
“We are still making some mistakes out there, but we just have to plug up the holes and as long as our guys keep getting better and continue believing, we will be in good shape,” Maciejewski said.
After a challenging road test at Gannon, the Raiders will now continue on the road for the next two weeks, traveling for a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) crossover match with Clarion University on Saturday, before opening PSAC East Division play next Saturday at East Stroudsburg University.
The Red Raiders will travel to Memorial Stadium Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff vs Clarion.