Updated: Jan 24, 2019
After a blowout victory two weeks ago against Albright College, the Salisbury University football team’s next challenge was the start of conference play. Their first test was the Kean University Cougars.
With a senior-laden veteran group last season, Kean proved to be a formidable opponent for the Sea Gulls, nearly pulling the upset off but falling 21-13 at home. In that game last season, the Cougars were at least able to slow down Salisbury’s potent offense for a majority of the game.
In this year’s edition of the match-up, while Kean did slow down Salisbury’s offense early on, the story of the game was the consistent Sea Gull defense that continued their strong stride from the Albright game. Resiliency on the offensive side of the football also paved the way to another home victory for Salisbury.
“Up front, we felt all along throughout the week that we had great opportunities to [stop them defensively,]” SU head coach Sherman Wood said. “We knew that they were still trying to get their chemistry. Our goal was to disrupt that chemistry.”
The Salisbury defense found success early on against Kean, forcing punts on all three of the Couger’s opening possessions. However, the Sea Gull offense continued to miss opportunities themselves, driving deep into Kean territory twice without points to show for it on their opening two drives.
To start the second quarter, the Salisbury offense finally started clicking. Their drive moved quickly down the field when SU sophomore quarterback Jack Lanham found freshman wide receiver Cameron Carlyle on a deep-ball down the left side of the sideline. The 43-yard grab set the Sea Gulls up at the Kean 27-yard line.
With the help of a few successful rushes including a 14-yard gain by Lanham, Salisbury punched the ball in from two yards out with senior super back Kadarrius Campbell for the opening score. That 7-0 score line would remain up until halftime.
Before the half, Kean found some momentum on offense which was immediately lost. After 33-yard catch by Kean wide receiver Jameer Campbell, Cougar running back Paris Crawford lost the ball to the Sea Gulls three plays later on a fumble. The opportunity deep in Kean territory once again went awry for Salisbury, turning the ball over on downs.
As the second half dawned on the Sea Gulls, the SU offense would not see Lanham on the field again for the rest of the game, leaving with an injury suffered just before halftime. With the 7-0 lead sophomore Jack Navitsky was called upon to lead Salisbury to victory.
“I knew that I had to pick up right where Jack [Lanham] left out,” Navitsky said. “We prepared for this all week in practice. In practice, the coaches have us prepare like everyone is going to be the starter. It’s easy to get in there and not miss a beat.”
Right out of the break, the Sea Gulls set the tempo, marching down the field 80 yards to tack on an additional seven points into a 14-0 lead. The clinching 18-yard grab was once again made by Carlyle, who found himself wide open in the left side of the end zone.
Carlyle finished the day as the leading receiver for the Gulls with three receptions for 65 yards and that touchdown. Under center for the entire second half, Navitsky finished the game with 55 rushing yards, including a 29-yard run.
“Knowing that [our defense] had our backs [was the key,]” Navitsky said. “We just had to go out there and do our job. They played a heck of a game. We just needed to start clicking.”
While the game was overall very close, Kean became their own worst enemy throughout the game. Kean senior quarterback Rylan Pangborn was rattled in the third quarter, fumbling on two consecutive drives.
The first fumble was the most lethal. After the ball was popped out by SU senior safety Devinne Greene, SU junior defensive end Matt McFarland picked up the ball and returned it to the red zone for a 35-yard fumble return. The score gave the Sea Gulls a comfortable 21-0 lead toward the end of the third quarter.
“It was a blitz,” Greene said. “I tell everyone that any time Coach [Disbennett] sends me on a blitz I’m like J.J. Watt off the edge. I timed it right and kept my leverage right on the outside. I saw the quarterback hold [the ball] up, and I just punched it out.”
Late in the game, another Campbell rushing touchdown just outside the goal line gave SU their final margin of a 28-0 victory. Leading the way in rushing for the Sea Gulls was senior slot back Mike Fowler with 78 yards. Five Salisbury players rushed for over 30 yards.
“Our main job throughout practice and in this game was to just get outside and to the perimeter,” Fowler said. “We knew we had speed and athletic guys. If we get the ball outside and pitch, then we can make something happen. They did give us some tough looks.”
The Sea Gulls were much more efficient on the offensive side of the ball Saturday afternoon than they were against Albright, when they were 13 percent on third-down conversions and lost three fumbles in the first quarter. Against the Cougars, SU was 8-for-16 on third down and had no turnovers. A 0-for-4 mark on fourth down will be a stain on the box score, though.
The Salisbury offense got the job done once again, but the story of the afternoon was once again the SU defense. The unit has now shut out their opponents in the last six quarters, allowing only seven points per game.
“I attribute it to practice,” Greene said. “Not only practice, but everything off the field with our relationships. We are always picking each other up, pushing each other.”
Kean was never able to get going in the game, still searching for their first points of the season. Crawford was the Cougars’ leading rusher with just 26 yards. Safety Kory Kenny and linebacker Dante Capozzoli were active on the Kean defense, leading the unit with 14 and 9.5 tackles, respectively.
On Saturday, Salisbury will host another struggling offense in Sea Gull Stadium for a 6 p.m. kick-off as The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Lions (0-3, 0-2 NJAC) visit. TCNJ is averaging just over nine points per game this season, tallying just seven points total between their meetings with Wesley and Frostburg State over the last two weeks.
By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU sophomore quarterback Jack Navitsky stiff-arms Kean defensive back Mackenzie Hatcher on a rush to the outside. Sept. 15. (Olivia Rowland images).