The Shippensburg University football team kicked off its 2018 season in style Saturday, grabbing a 35–13 win over Clarion University at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh.
The biggest development going into the game was redshirt-freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina earning the start. The game was Mussina’s first collegiate appearance and the nerves were certainly present in the first half. As the game went on, however, Mussina seemed to settle down and started efficiently passing the ball down the field more and more.
He got into a rhythm — finding his running backs in the middle of the field, then following up with deep passes to All-PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Winston Eubanks. Eubanks was only targeted once in the first half – an incompletion – but Mussina started gaining confidence and tested Eubanks’ coverage more often in the second half, finding him four times for 161 yards and a score, including an impressive 58-yard bomb on a SU scoring drive.
On SU’s final scoring drive, Mussina and Eubanks connected on a 36-yard reception that brought the ball down to Clarion’s 20-yard line. Eubanks made a tremendous catch, as the ball came over his shoulder and he let it drop right into his cradled arm for the one-handed catch. Then on the next play, Mussina went right back to Eubanks for the 20-yard score as Eubanks crossed the middle of the field and was practically in between double coverage.
Mussina spread out his targets well during the day, hitting eight different receivers. He finished the game with 348 passing yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. The Red Raider offensive line did a tremendous job protecting Mussina, not allowing a sack to the Golden Eagles defense.
When speaking about Mussina, coach Mark “Mac” Maciejewski said, “A first-time starter, you’re gonna be nervous and have jitters and things.” Coach Mac continued, saying, “He just had to settle down a little bit, but I give him a ton of credit, because he came back in the second half and played.” It was almost night and day for Mussina from half to half. He had 78 passing yards and one touchdown in the first half, but exploded for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Redshirt-sophomores Josh Gontarek and Charles Headen III were the other recipients of a Mussina touchdown pass.
The running backs performed well, as three Red Raiders largely shared the responsibilities. Redshirt-sophomore Raleigh Sirb led the way with 56 rushing yards on nine attempts, while redshirt-freshman Sean Judge and redshirt-senior Marcus Lominy were close behind with 49 and 47 yards, respectively. Judge added an 11-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter for the first score of the game.
Senior quarterback Chase Yocum entered the game on several occasions when the Red Raiders were in the red zone and ran some different plays designed for the mobile Yocum. He reached the end zone on SU’s third scoring drive on a read-option run.
The SU defense picked up where it left off last season, allowing only 13 points to the Golden Eagles and limiting their QB to only 133 passing yards. The Golden Eagles had some success on the ground, with running back Mylique McGriff breaking off a couple long runs, including a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Coach Mac said that the run was the one major mistake that the defense made all afternoon and that he was pleased overall with the effort he saw from his unit.
Clarion allowed three sacks on the day. Redshirt-senior linebacker Steven Cain had one and a half sacks to go along with his team-leading nine tackles. Redshirt-senior defensive end Dakota Thompson also contributed a sack with his four and a half tackles-for-loss. The defense also kept Clarion to 0-for-14 on third downs and only allowed one fourth down conversion. Redshirt-sophomore Terez Franklin also added an interception late in the game to seal the win.
The victory marks the fifth consecutive season that the Red Raiders have won their season opener. For its next contest, SU will host Slippery Rock University on Saturday at 1 p.m. in its home opener at Seth Grove Stadium.