Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Defense has been a building block for Salisbury football under head coach Sherman Wood. The Sea Gull unit has ranked in the top three in the New Jersey Athletic Conference over the past two seasons.
Entering Saturday’s contest against Rowan University, Salisbury held the sixth-best scoring defense in the NJAC and had allowed 19 or more points in all four games.
Rowan came into Sea Gull Stadium boasting the third-ranked offense in the NJAC, but the Sea Gull defense finally found its footing on Homecoming Weekend. Salisbury surrendered just one score to the Profs, staying undefeated with the 38-7 win.
Senior defensive back Sean Carroll said the coaching staff deserves the credit for preparing the unit for the Rowan offense.
“We have a great coaching staff, and the game prep was phenomenal. We basically knew what they were running every play,” Carroll said. “They got us on a couple trick plays … but the inside guys, they held it down.”
The Profs (1-5, 1-2 NJAC) were coming off their first win of the 2019 campaign, topping Kean University 52-7. The Sea Gulls (5-0, 3-0 NJAC) were one week removed from topping Wesley College 45-38 in the 30th edition of the Route 13 rivalry.
Rowan received the opening kickoff, but the Salisbury defense forced a quick three-and-out to get its first possession of the game. Sophomore quarterback Jack Lanham and junior slotback Shamar Gray rattled off first-down runs on the first two plays of the game, but a fumble from sophomore slotback Hopeton Mair would end the four-play drive.
The Sea Gull defensive unit flexed its muscles again on the following possession as a sack from senior defensive lineman Felix Fonmedig forced a third-and-long that the Profs would not convert.
On the ensuing Salisbury drive, Mair racked up 27 yards on the ground, including a four-yard touchdown, to put the Sea Gulls on the board. Mair ran for a game-high 123 yards in the game.
Mair said the offensive line for Salisbury deserves all the credit for his success on the ground.
“I just gotta thank my O-Line for that,” Mair said. “They provided those holes for me, and I just did my job, hit it hard and get what I can.”
The Salisbury offensive line earned a spot on the D3football.com Team of the Week for its performance against Wesley. The Gulls tallied a total of 417 yards on the ground in that game and totaled 336 against Rowan.
After the third three-and-out forced by Salisbury, Lanham found senior wide receiver Octavian Wilson for a 31-yard touchdown strike. Wilson had two receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Rowan drove down to the Salisbury five-yard line, but the Gull defense held it to a fourth-and-goal. The Profs opted to attempt a 27-yard field goal, which Carroll blocked.
Carroll notched 10 total tackles to go with the blocked kick in the game.
Following the block, Lanham led the Sea Gull offense on an eight-play, 65-yard drive and capped it off by calling his own number, taking it in from 11 yards out to put Salisbury up 21-0.
After a punt from each team, Profs quarterback Mike Husni found his senior receiver Nick Grosso for a 32-yard touchdown, putting Rowan on the board.
This would be the lone score for Rowan on the day.
Carroll said the Sea Gulls have talent all over the field defensively, and everything finally clicked against the Profs.
“Our D-Line got pressure every single play, our linebackers are lock-down, they don’t let anything come up inside and they make the plays outside,” Carroll said. “For the [defensive backs], we do our job, and we did everything very sound today.”
Both teams would fumble the ball away before the break, but the score stayed set at 21-7 at the break. Lanham led the way for the Sea Gull offense with 131 combined yards and two touchdowns.
The two defenses went toe-to-toe to start the second half, with both sides forcing the other into a three-and-out. A 42-yard reception by Wilson on the second Sea Gull drive of the second half set up a 33-yard field goal for Bert Schrecongost to push the lead to 24-7.
With 10:24 remaining in the game, Lanham found freshman receiver Devon Fowlkes for a 10-yard touchdown. This was just the third reception of the season for Fowlkes and his first collegiate score.
A late touchdown run from freshman slotback Joey Bildstein served as the dagger, setting the final score of 38-7.
Carroll said this game was a “prove-it” game of sorts for Salisbury coming off the big win over Wesley.
“We had some reporters that picked us to lose today … we looked at it as a statement game, because we had to prove something today,” Carroll said.
The Sea Gull defense showed out, recording five sacks and holding Rowan to 33% on third down. Salisbury had just seven sacks in 2019 entering the contest.
Wood said that while he is pleased with his team’s performance, he knows it has a long way to go to reach its goal.
“It’s very easy for everyone, including our players, to say, ‘Hey guys, we’re good to go,’ and it’s our job as a coaching staff to make sure they remain focused,” Wood said. “We don’t care who we’re playing, we still have to execute to perfection, because if we don’t, anything can happen.”
Salisbury will look to continue its undefeated season next Saturday when it travels to Kean University. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Brendan Link image.