The Gannon University football team set several offensive records against Slippery Rock University Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Knights after the 38-18 loss at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, the most glaring record is 1-2 — the Knights’ overall mark
Saturday’s loss was more evocative of an AFL game than a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division opener for the Baby Boomers in the crowd, as Gannon redshirt freshman quarterback Liam Nadler aired it out 63 times, completing 35. Senior kicker Matt Szczupakowski booted four field goals and sophomore Justin Caliste caught 12 passes—all school single-game records, although they couldn’t erase the costly mistakes that overshadowed them.
Nadler said the Knights are working on the mistakes.
“Right now we’re stopping ourselves,” he said. “We’re working hard at practice to correct those things, but we’ve got to do it on the field.”
Gannon’s four turnovers led to 14 points and the Knights managed only one touchdown in six trips to the red zone.
“For the second week in a row we dominated every statistical category—we had more yards, more time of possession, but we’re not creating turnovers and opportunities to score like we should,” coach Brad Rzyczycki said.
Slippery Rock (2-1 overall, 1-0 PSAC West) was more efficient with its possessions.
The defending PSAC-West champions returned a kick and an interception for touchdowns in the first quarter to grab the early momentum. All this came after Szczupakowski kicked field goals on the Knights’ first two drives.
On the Rock’s first possession, Gannon senior linebacker Will Giles intercepted Jared Buck’s pass on the game’s second play, setting up the 32-yard field goal. On its next possession, Gannon drove 73 yards, but again had to settle for a 35-yard field goal after the drive stalled.
After taking a 17-6 lead into the halftime locker room, Slippery Rock distanced itself even further from Gannon in the second half when it converted a nine-yard touchdown pass from holder Michael Bongivengo on a fake field goal.
The Rock extended its lead to as much as 38-12 in the fourth quarter, before Gannon scored its lone touchdown when Nadler found sophomore Abraham Ocasio in the end zone on a one-yard connection. It was Ocasio’s fourth receiving touchdown of the season, tying him for the lead in the PSAC.
Gannon’s final play breakdown indicated just 19 rushes compared to 65 passes for the game, many of which were designed get the ball to the edge, Rzyczycki said.
“About 50 percent of our passing plays were bubble screens, which really are just extensions of the running game.”
Gannon’s 19 rushes yielded just 66 yards on the ground.
The loss snaps Gannon’s three-game win streak against the Rock. The Knights will return home Saturday, when they face Clarion (1-2, 0-1) at 6 p.m. The Knights haven’t defeated the Golden Eagles since 2008.
“It feels great to play at home again,” Nadler said. “Playing against Clarion, who we haven’t beaten in few years, if we could get a win Saturday would be huge for the team.”