In a season of firsts for the Gannon University football team, it was a disastrous second half that spelled doom Saturday against Bloomsburg University.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Liam Nadler connected on a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Abraham Ocasio on the first drive of the second half to give the Knights a three-point lead. But 10th-ranked Bloomsburg ripped off 22 consecutive points thanks to a stellar ground game to pull away for a runaway 43-24 win.
From the opening whistle, Saturday’s game played out more like the Iditarod statistically speaking, as the Huskies raced circles around the Knights.
Bloomsburg (5-0) entered the game ranked third among Division II teams in rushing yards and didn’t disappoint Saturday. The Huskies racked up 483 yards on the ground and saw their two-headed running back attack of Franklin Quiteh and Eddie Mateo consistently slash and gash the Gannon defense to the tune of 389 yards between the two of them.
The loss was Gannon’s fourth in a row after defeating Lake Erie College in the season opener, all four courtesy of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference opponents.
“The ultimate goal is always to win football games, but has time as gone on we have really seen progress,” coach Brad Rzyczycki said. “They have been positive and practices have been good. No one is in the dumps because we are 1-4.”
In front of more than 1,700 fans at Bloomsburg’s Robert Redman Stadium, Gannon was able to match Bloomsburg score for score in the first half.
After Gannon kicker Matt Szuczupakowski kicked a 20-yard field goal on Gannon’s opening drive, Nadler threw second-quarter touchdowns to Ocasio and sophomore Joe Sobucki to keep the Knights within striking distance. Bloomsburg quarterback Tim Kelly hooked up on three first-half touchdowns to make up the Huskies’ 21-17 halftime lead.
Following Ocasio’s PSAC-leading sixth touchdown to begin the second half, Bloomsburg took the game over.
On the ensuing kickoff, D.J. Robinson returned the kick to Gannon’s 6-yard line, where Quiteh promptly found on the end zone on the next play.
Quiteh reached the end-zone once more in the fourth quarter on a 28-yard run, as his scores bookended another Mateo touchdown. Quiteh finished the game with 202 yards on 26 carries, while Mateo contributed another 180 yards. Quiteh increased his season total to 827 yards, which ranks second in Division II.
In all, Bloomsburg collected 205 rushing yards and attempted just two passes in the second half—both incompletions.
The Knights also enjoyed a glimpse of success on the ground, as junior Jansen Jones ran for a season-high 72 yards on 12 carries. Nadler also accounted for 289 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-46 passing.
“Our offense bounced back from a poor effort against Clarion and moved the ball against a very good Bloomsburg defense,” Rzyczycki said.
Saturday’s game was the Knights’ last crossover game with a PSAC Eastern Division opponent before they host Long Island-Post University in the season finale.
Gannon will return to Erie County when it makes the short trip down Interstate 79 to take on Edinboro University 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Knights have not defeated the Scots since joining the PSAC in 2008 and have gone scoreless the past two years.
“Edinboro has really controlled the ball the last three or four years against us,” Rzyczycki said of the Scots. “They’ve run a lot of more plays and churned out time on the clock. Defensively, we have to get some three-and-outs and get our offense back on the field”
Gannon’s defense is ranked 10th in the 16-team PSAC, allowing 29.2 points per game.
Sophomore defensive back Mike Phillips made a career-high 17 tackles against Bloomsburg, tying the third-highest single-game total in school history.