Despite totaling 236 yards of total offense in the first half, the Shippensburg University football team held just a 7-0 lead over Clarion University at the break Saturday afternoon.
While SU’s defense was imposing its will on the Golden Eagle offense, the Red Raiders (3-0) struggled to finish drives — except for a 34-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Ryan Zapoticky to Abel Hoff with 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Red Raiders offense was in control of the momentum, and in the third quarter the floodgates finally opened.
After the SU defense forced Clarion (0-3) to punt, Ryan Zapoticky found wide receiver Winston Eubanks uncovered in the middle of the field. Eubanks made the catch and ran the rest of the way for an 80-yard touchdown to spark the offense, as SU poured it on in the second half to dominate the Golden Eagles, 31-0 at Memorial Stadium.
“We just weren’t hitting on all cylinders in the first half offensively,” SU head coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski said. “The defense worked really hard the first half until the offense got it going. We got Eubanks the ball and got it rolling from there.”
Later in the third quarter, Colin McDermott, making his first collegiate start in place of the injured Cole Chiappialle, made the most of the opportunity by getting into the end zone on a 5-yard rushing touchdown to put SU up 21-0 with 5:18 left in the third.
With the big lead, the SU defense continued to frustrate Clarion quarterback Asiantii Woulard and the Golden Eagle offense, as Clarion could not sustain any drives, despite multiple chunk plays. Clarion had just 67 yards in the opening half, 34 of which came on one play.
Clarion began to move the ball early in the final quarter, but the drive came to an end around midfield when SU defensive back Eric Dzieniszewski came away with an interception — his third in as many weeks.
Later in the fourth, turnovers continued to plague Woulard, as he telegraphed a pass to his wide receiver that SU defensive back Chavez Cheatham jumped in front of and returned for a 54-yard touchdown, giving SU its third straight week with a defensive touchdown.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Cheatham said. “We pride ourselves on trying to get a defensive touchdown every game. The defensive effort was amazing.”
The SU defense finished the day with six tackles for loss, while Dakota Thompson and John Durkin each had sacks. The shutout was SU’s first since the Red Raiders defeated Cheyney University 76-0 last season.
SU finished the game with 513 yards of offense, in large part behind Zapoticky’s big day. Zapoticky finished the day 21-of-38, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns.
Eubanks and Hoff led a young SU receiving core, as they finished with 223 yards and two touchdowns combined. With a touchdown, Eubanks now has four touchdowns on the season.
“It’s been amazing,” Eubanks said. “Having Zap as the general leading us makes it a lot easier for me. I feel really comfortable with him. The other wide receivers are also doing a great job. We run routes to get each other open, so we all work together.”
The Red Raiders also moved the ball well on the ground, as McDermott and Marcus Lominy split carries. SU dominated in the running game, out-gaining Clarion 173-19 on the ground.
“The more we can do that the better were going to be,” Maciejewski said. “The biggest thing is we need to play four full quarters. If we do that I’ll be happy.”
With the win, SU completes its opening slate of non-conference play. The Red Raiders will complete their three-game road trip Saturday at East Stroudsburg University. The game is the Red Raiders’ first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East Division matchup of the season.
“We’re going to get back to work tomorrow,” Maciejewski said. “That’s our next game mentality. All we are focusing on is East Stroudsburg, and we’re going to do our best to be successful.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Eiler-Martin Stadium on Saturday.