Shippensburg University played its worst second half offensively this season on Saturday against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division rival Bloomsburg University, turning the ball over four times and converting just 3-of-17 third downs in the game.
Luckily for the Red Raiders, they possess one of the best defenses in the nation — one that held the Huskies to a 1-of-17 success rate on third down — holding Bloomsburg to just six points and snapping its streak of 125 straight games with a touchdown in a 20-6 win. The win was SU’s first win over Bloomsburg since 2013.
“We knew coming in that Bloomsburg was going to play us tough,” SU head coach Mark Maciejewski said. “Thank goodness we were able to get up at the beginning of the game. I’m real proud of our defense and what they did, because their backs were against the wall for most of the day and they got out of it.”
SU’s defense held Bloomsburg to just 1-of-4 on fourth down and forced Husky quarterback Chris Palubinsky into three interceptions. Defensive backs Chavez Cheatham, JT Hopple and Richard Sheler all intercepted passes.
The Red Raiders struggled after the opening kickoff, as quarterback Ryan Zapoticky threw a pass that was right at Bloomsburg’s Dexter Johnson, who came away with the interception at the SU 21-yard line, returning it inside the 10.
The SU defense made its first valiant stop of the day, forcing Bloomsburg to go three-and-out. The Huskies settled for a 21-yard field goal by Ryan Abbott. The Huskies led 3-0.
Much like last week, the Red Raiders found themselves trailing after a huge opening play. SU once again shook it off immediately, scoring a touchdown on the next drive. On third down, Zapoticky got outside the pocket, and ran for what was sure to be a first down, but never went out of bounds, catching Bloomsburg off guard, as he tight-roped the sideline for a 54-yard rushing touchdown.
SU would never trail again.
Just five minutes later, Zapoticky connected with one of the PSAC’s most electrifying receivers, Winston Eubanks, for an 83-yard score. Eubanks shed his defender at the line of scrimmage, catching a short pass and taking it the rest of the way to the house.
On their next offensive possession, Zapoticky found Eubanks once more, this time for a 64-yard touchdown pass. SU led 20-3 and the defense carried that lead into the half.
“Offensively we came out on fire and it was awesome,” Maciejewski said. “They have a really good defense and they made adjustments.”
Bloomsburg struggled to get anything going offensively, largely in part to the pressure from SU’s front seven. The Huskies finished with 103 rushing yards, but 44 of those yards came on a rush by Alex Gooden. Palubinsky was suffocated by the Red Raider defense, getting sacked three times on the day. SU defensive end Richard Nase finished with two sacks, with the third being credited to defensive linemen John Durkin and Dakota Thompson.
“We go by the saying, bend don’t break,” Nase said. “We can give a little bit and they move the ball, but when it comes to the red zone that’s our house and that is what matters. That’s when we play our hardest and get those stops.”
The Huskies did have their chances, however, as Zapoticky threw an interception deep in SU territory in the third quarter, giving Bloomsburg a first and 10 at SU’s 12-yard line. The defense once again stood tough, stuffing the Huskies on four straight plays, as the Huskies turned the ball over.
Later in the quarter, Zapoticky was strip-sacked at midfield by Bloomsburg’s Chris Gary, who recovered the fumble to give the Huskies another opportunity to capitalize.
The Red Raiders again shut the door, failing to give an inch, as Bloomsburg gained no yards on three-straight plays and were forced to punt.
Bloomsburg scored on a 36-yard field goal off the leg of Abbott in the second half, but could draw no closer.
For Nase, and SU’s upperclassmen, the win over one of SU’s biggest rival was monumental.
“Today was more than just a game for us,” Nase said. “We came out with a purpose bigger than just getting a W in the win column. It’s a rivalry game and in my entire time here we hadn’t beat Bloom. It was big to make a statement and earn some respect for us to make a playoff push.”
SU came away with the victory despite an uncharacteristic day by Zapoticky, who finished the game 13-of-24 for 236 yards, three-total touchdowns and three interceptions. The interceptions matched Zapoticky’s season total entering the game.
Eubanks finished the game with three catches for a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our coaches always preach starting fast,” Eubanks said. “The coaches put us in a great position to win games and it comes down to us executing. I was able to do that and the O-line did a great job protecting Zap and he made my job easy.”
SU’s defense picked up its starting quarterback, registering the fourth game this season where they refused to give up a touchdown. Safety Dennis Robinson led the defense with a career-high 13 tackles, while linebacker Steven Cain had a career-high nine tackles.
“We feed off each other,” Cain said. “We have a great defensive front and they do a great job opening up holes for linebackers, and our defensive backs keep getting interception after interception. It’s a great thing to have.”
The Red Raiders also spent most of the day scoreboard watching, hoping for West Chester University to fall at Millersville University to earn a spot in the PSAC Championship Game, since the Golden Rams hold the tiebreaker over SU after defeating the Red Raiders 37-27 on Oct. 7 at Seth Grove Stadium.
It was not meant to be however, as West Chester drove 90 yards down the field and punched in a touchdown with 1:18 remaining to seal the victory — and the right to host the PSAC title, or State Game against the undefeated Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
The win puts SU right in the thick of things in the postseason picture though, as the Red Raiders, who already hold the seventh seed in the Atlantic Region rankings, should be able to continue to climb the rankings if they win next week and West Chester or Slippery Rock University loses.
“9-1 is great but we need to get to 10-1 to try and achieve some of our goals here,” Maciejewski said. “We have a vision of where we want to be and what we have to do in order to get there.”
SU will face Seton Hill University on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Seth Grove Stadium. The Red Raiders will honor their 12 seniors before the game on Senior Day.