Despite an impressive performance from redshirt-freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina under the lights, the Shippensburg University football team could not pull out the win in its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East matchup of the season against Bloomsburg University, dropping the contest by a score of 28–24.
Mussina threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the narrow defeat — one of the best performances of his young career. He threw one interception, but overall looked much more confident and poised in the rare night matchup. Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Winston Eubanks finished with 97 yards and a late score on only three catches to lead the Red Raiders in yards.
SU only had one short drive in the entire first quarter, as Bloomsburg ate up the majority of the clock on its second drive. BU would end the drive with the first play of the second quarter being a 28-yard touchdown from quarterback Erik Benjamin to receiver Michael Allen. A couple pass interference penalties moved the Huskies offense down the field, and only needed a few strong plays by Benjamin and running back Hakeem Sillman to finish the drive.
The penalties came early and often all night, as the teams combined for around 250 total penalty yards. SU had more than 70 yards in penalties in the early stages of the second quarter, including a handful of PI calls that helped extend some BU drives. The Huskies did not have a much better time, racking up a total of 147 yards on several PI calls and holding penalties. There were also a fair number of personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on both teams during the game.
A botched handoff from Mussina to redshirt-sophomore running back Raleigh Sirb gave the ball to the Bloomsburg offense at SU’s 24-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Red Raiders put the ball on the 12-yard line for the Huskies. BU capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown pass from Benjamin to wide receiver Kieron Smethers for the 14–0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The following SU drive went down the field on a couple key plays. Backup quarterback Chase Yocum entered the game on a fourth down and short to convert on the option play to keep the drive alive on the Red Raiders’ side of the field. One or two plays later, Mussina hit redshirt-junior tight end Shea O’Donnell down the middle for a 23-yard gain to move the ball into Bloomsburg’s half.
A pass interference call on a pass attempt to Eubanks pushed the ball closer to the red zone. Mussina hit redshirt-sophomore receiver Charles Headen III on a 15-yard touchdown to end the half, but the snap for the extra point went over Mussina’s head, so the score was 14–6 in favor of the Huskies going into the second half.
After a short three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, the Red Raiders got the ball back on offense and picked up where they left off at the end of the first half. Eubanks got his first reception of the game on a 28-yard completion down the middle to put the ball in BU territory.
The following play resulted in another pass interference call on the defense to bring the ball down to the red zone as the Red Raiders continued to charge down the field.
Mussina went right to Headen for his second touchdown of the night to bring the score to 14–12 in favor of the Huskies, with just less than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.
The SU defense forced a Bloomsburg three-and-out on the following possession, but the Red Raiders muffed the punt and the Huskies recovered the ball at SU’s 45-yard line. BU capitalized quickly, only needing five plays to find the end zone for the 21–12 lead.
Mussina and the SU offense got the ball on their own seven-yard line to start the next drive. The unit drove downfield to around midfield, including another PI call on the Huskies defense. Mussina made his first big mistake of the night, overthrowing his intended receiver for an interception by BU defensive back Josh Salak to give possession back to the Huskies in good field position.
The defense stayed strong after the turnover and stifled the Bloomsburg offense. The Red Raider defensive line came up big in its own territory, stuffing the quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches to give the ball back to the offense and keep the deficit at nine early in the fourth quarter.
After a BU scoring drive extended its lead to 28–12, the Red Raiders answered with an impressive drive of their own, as Mussina connected with Josh Gontarek on fourth-and-eight to keep the drive alive. PI was also called on the play and the ball was moved down into Huskies’ territory. Mussina hit Gontarek again on a crossing route for 26 yards to move the ball to the 14-yard line.
O’Donnell elevated to grab the Mussina pass in the end zone to make it 28–18. Yocum was brought into the game to try and make the two-point conversion, but the shovel pass to Luke Durkin failed to keep it a two-score game with just more than five minutes to go in the game.
Freshman kicker David Shank’s struggles continued, as the following kick-off went out of bounds at SU’s own 45-yard line to put the Huskies in great position to grab another score with time winding down. BU moved a few yards down the field, but missed a field goal to keep it a 10-point game with only three minutes remaining.
Mussina got sacked on SU’s final drive, bringing up a last-hope fourth down with 15 yards to go. Mussina launched the ball deep, looking for Eubanks and connecting for only his third reception of the day, resulting in a 65-yard touchdown play — the biggest play of the day for either team. Eubanks beat two Huskies defenders downfield and had to avoid two more defenders on his way to the end zone. The score at that point was 28–24 after Shank missed the extra point.
The loss was the team’s second in a row and dropped SU to 2–2 on the season and 0–1 in division play. Mussina improved after a rough outing against California University of Pennsylvania last week, but his play alone was not enough to grab the win — though he did rally the team back to within four at the end of the game. The team will look to turn it around after a tough couple of losses and put in a strong performance away from home against East rival West Chester University next week.
The Golden Rams gave the Red Raiders their only two losses of the season last year — one in the regular season and the one that knocked SU out of the NCAA playoffs. The defense will need to tighten up if the team will have success against West Chester. Kick-off is at noon from John A. Farrell Stadium on Saturday.