Ta’Von Bailey didn’t like what he heard all week. And he and the rest of the Gannon University football team weren’t going to let it go unnoticed.
Garnering national attention from outlets such as Yahoo and ESPN, Gannon’s game at Lock Haven University Saturday was thought to represent the end of the Bald Eagles’ record 50-game losing streak.
Instead, a different losing streak ended, as the Knights repeatedly stymied Lock Haven’s scoring threats en route to a 13-7 win at Hubert Jack Stadium.
“We didn’t address it until we walked onto the field,” said the sophomore defensive back. “The whole team was upset with the national attention and everyone expecting us to lose. We felt we’re 10 times, 100 times better than that.”
Gannon’s losing streak coupled with their perceived disrespect left the Knights with a foul taste in their mouth. The win sweetened things up.
“Winning’s like a deodorant,” coach Brad Rzyczycki said. “It cleans things up pretty fast.”
Gannon’s first win since its season-opening 36-33 victory over Lake Erie College ran the Knights’ record to 2-7 overall and accounts for its lone Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference win of the season. The Knights also improved to 5-0 all-time against Lock Haven.
The Knights had a season-high 196 rushing yards on 43 carries — more than 100 yards better than their season average. Junior running back Jansen Jones’ 183 yards on 29 carries represented a career-high.
“We were able to run the ball, controlled the clock and we stopped the run,” That’s the difference.
Gannon’s prowess on the ground manifested itself on the game’s first drive, when the Knights drove 81 yards — all on the ground. Sophomore running back Alex Papson’s 3-yard dash to the end zone gave the Knights an early advantage.
“Before the game, you wouldn’t have thought we were going to have the success we had,” junior right guard Josh Williams said. “But during the game, we were clicking and the running backs were hitting the holes.”
Gannon’s momentum was short-lived, however. On the ensuing drive, redshirt freshman quarterback Liam Nadler’s pass was intercepted and returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
From there, Gannon’s defense took over.
Gannon forced a pair of turnovers and allowed just 245 total yards of offense to Lock Haven (0-9 overall, 0-6 PSAC), which gave the Knights all they could handle.
“Watching them on film, you wouldn’t think they’re a winless team,” Rzyczycki said.
On what turned out to be perhaps the biggest play of the night, Bailey chased down Lock Haven’s Brandon Brader on the first play of the second half on the 1-yard-line after a 72-yard run. The ensuing play Brader fumbled and Gannon senior safety Ashton Jones recovered.
The Knights’ shutout over Lock Haven was their first since blanking Millersville in September 2011.
“We knew they’re a physical team and our plan was to hit them in the mouth first,” Bailey said.
Senior kicker Matt Szczupakowski’s field goals from 24 and 37 yards out in the second and third quarters made up the difference in score.
For Lock Haven, Saturday’s loss was the second near miss in as many weeks. Last week, Clarion scored on the last play of the game to win 30-28.
Gannon defensive tackle Ian Jeffers said the Bald Eagles are better than what the streak shows.
“They’re an up-and-coming team,” Jeffers said.
In Gannon’s coming game Saturday, the Knights will face a team with a different streak. PSAC-West leading Indiana University of Pennsylvania (8-1, 5-1) has won five in a row, including a 45-0 rout of Clarion University Saturday.
“IUP runs it 70 percent of the time,” Rzyczycki said. “They’ll run it down your throat, so we have to create some packages that will address that.”