After losing in the de facto New Jersey Athletic Conference championship at Frostburg State on Saturday, the Salisbury University football team (8-2, 7-2 NJAC) found out that its season would continue an additional week. The Sea Gulls will host this year’s Eastern College Athletic Conference Asa S. Bushnell Bowl Saturday afternoon.
The bowl game will be held at Sea Gull Stadium with a noon kickoff scheduled. Visiting Salisbury, Md. will be the Alfred University Saxons (6-4, 4-3 Empire 8) of upstate New York. The Saxons finished tied for third in the Empire 8 this season.
Alfred and Salisbury do have a recent history on the gridiron, as both teams were cohorts in the Empire 8 for a few seasons. The last matchup between the two schools took place in 2014 when the Saxons defeated the Sea Gulls in Salisbury 23-21.
After that 2014 season, Salisbury made the jump to the NJAC, causing the teams to not play since then. In their four seasons in the Empire 8, the Sea Gulls won the coference championship two times, including a run in 2011 to the NCAA quarterfinals.
The Saxons emerge into the bowl game following a 41-13 non-conference victory over Rochester to end their regular season. Within the Empire 8, Alfred’s successes have primarily come on the defensive end as a team.
Allowing 303.7 yards per game, Alfred ranks second in the Empire 8 in total defense, just behind conference champions The College at Brockport. Within that total defense, the Saxons have held opponents on the ground to 88.7 yards per game. Through the air, Alfred ranks first in all of NCAA Division III with 22 interceptions.
On offense, the Saxons have their most success on the ground, ranking second in rushing yards per game in the Empire 8 with 194.2. Sophomore running back Nas Smith takes on the primary rushing duties, with 1,163 total rushing yards and five 100 or more yard games.
Alfred’s primary quarterback is junior Ben Burk, throwing for 1,468 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. At 155.9 yards per game, the team’s passing attack is last among Empire 8 teams.
The Saxons’ offensive unit will be tested by one of the top defenses in the country, as the Sea Gulls rank eighth and 17th nationally in total defense and scoring defense, respectively. Additionally, Salisbury is especially strong against the run, ranking third in the nation by allowing just under 43 rushing yards per game.
With senior Frank Pipich Jr. taking over under center for Salisbury at Frostburg State University, the Sea Gulls’ rushing offense continued to perform well, rushing for 375 yards in the loss. Pipich was also named NJAC Offensive Player of the Week, as he led Salisbury with 30 rushes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
The Sea Gulls still rank first in the nation in rushing offense with 366.2 yards per game. Senior super back Kadarrius Campbell leads Salisbury with 812 rushing yards this season while also recording 10 touchdowns.
For Salisbury, this is the fourth time in the last five years that the program will appear in an ECAC bowl game. Last season, the Sea Gulls fell to Ithaca College 27-17 in the ECAC Scotty Whitelaw Bowl, played in Newark, Del.
A Salisbury victory on Saturday afternoon would provide the Sea Gulls with their first nine-or-more win season since 2012.
Other NJAC teams moving on into postseason action include Wesley College and Frostburg State. As conference champions, Frostburg (9-0, 8-0 NJAC) will host Western New England University (8-2, 5-1 CCC) in the NCAA First Round on Saturday.
Wesley (6-4, 5-4 NJAC) will travel to New Wilmington, Pa. to face host Westminster College (Pa.) (7-3, 7-2 PAC) in the ECAC’s Clayton Chapman Bowl on Saturday.
By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: The SU defense combines to make a tackle against Kean. Sept. 15. (Olivia Rowland images).