The Shippensburg University football team went back to action after riding the high of an intense, last-minute victory against Slippery Rock University in its previous outing, only to fall flat on both offense and defense in a big loss to Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West squad California University of Pennsylvania (CALU), 57–14.
The Red Raiders struggled to contain the Vulcans on offense all day, giving up 20 points in the opening quarter as CALU’s true freshman quarterback Noah Mitchell had his way with the SU defense. The opening drive of the game did not end as the Red Raiders may have hoped, as the Vulcans charged down the field at will. Each of Mitchell’s completed passes on the drive resulted in a gain of at least 15 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes gone in the game.
SU did not get off to a comparable start on its first offensive drive, as redshirt-freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina struggled in his third collegiate start. He had two short completions followed by two incompletions to end the short drive. The SU run game was not much of a force in the afternoon, as redshirt-senior running back Marcus Lominy finished 24 yards on eight carries. Redshirt-sophomore Raleigh Sirb had a bit more success, totaling 58 yards on 14 carries.
The Red Raider defense settled down on CALU’s second drive of the day, allowing a deep 31-yard completion by Mitchell but following with an interception by redshirt-junior defensive back John Chaney III to give possession back to the offense.
In what would become a trend, SU moved slowly down the field and broke into Vulcan territory. Mussina took control of the offense and looked poised, but forced a ball into tight coverage and was picked off at CALU’s 29-yard line by defensive back Jimmy Pierce, who returned the ball the length of the field for another Vulcans score.
SU took over and picked up right where it left off. The team moved into Cal territory on a roughing the passer penalty and Mussina forced the ball downfield once again, resulting in another interception for the Vulcans. Two consecutive drives ended in turnovers for the Red Raiders, squandering good field positioning on possible scoring drives.
The Vulcans again turned the interception into points, driving down the field and bullying the SU defense on their way to the end zone for the 20–0 lead to end the first quarter. The score came on an accurate deep pass for 71 yards from Mitchell, who could not be contained in the quarter. The first drive of the second quarter for the Red Raiders did not go well, as Mussina was sacked for a big loss on second down and SU was forced to punt.
After two more consecutive scoring drives for CALU, SU put together an impressive drive as Mussina drew the Vulcan defense offside on two snaps in a row. Several quick short-yardage plays later, the Red Raiders were down at the CALU 28-yard line and looking like they had the momentum to grab their first points of the game. Another inopportune turnover, however, ended those hopes and the Red Raiders entered halftime scoreless and down 34 points.
In what has been a sort of pattern with the team so far this season, coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski came out more aggressive to start the second half and the Red Raiders moved efficiently down the field, including a 33-yard pass to redshirt-junior receiver Josh Gontarek. This drive ended much differently than the previous red zone chances, as Mussina hit Gontarek again for the 9-yard touchdown for SU’s first points of the game.
Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived as the Vulcans did not slow down on offense and immediately brought the deficit back to 33 points after CALU running back Nelson Brown broke off a big run for a 43-yard score. SU did not let that break slow it down on offense, as the unit put together a few big plays to quickly cross the field and score.
Tight end Shea O’Donnell caught two passes for 75 yards on the drive, including a 27-yard catch for the touchdown. The score narrowed the deficit to 40–14 at this point in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter did not go as well for the Red Raiders as the third had, as the Vulcans went to the run game early and often. Outside of one pass at the beginning of the drive, CALU used its running backs effectively all the way down the field to score and increase the Vulcans’ lead.
The Red Raiders could not get going on offense again as the Vulcans went on to score one more time before the end of the game. Mitchell finished the game with just over 300 passing yards and two touchdowns to go with Chaney’s interception.
Mussina could not repeat his early-season success against a stout CALU defense, throwing for just more than 200 yards and two touchdowns, but also four interceptions. Gontarek was the leading receiver for the Red Raiders during the afternoon, reeling in eight catches for 109 yards with a score.
The Red Raiders gave up 207 total rushing yards against CALU, including 139 and three touchdowns to Brown alone, along with five total scores.
Up next for SU is a trip to Bloomsburg University as the team begins its PSAC East matchups against the Huskies.
The rush defense will need to tighten up against Bloomsburg and lead back Hakeem Sillman, who has 304 yards on the ground across three games so far this season. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The Bloomsburg contest is the second game in a stretch of tough matchups on tap for the Red Raiders, as they then travel to West Chester University and host LIU Post at Seth Grove Stadium to round off the series.