The 30th installment of the Route 13 rivalry took place in Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday as No. 14/15 Salisbury football squared off against No. 8/12 Wesley College.
Entering the matchup, Wesley led the all-time series 21-8. The last time Salisbury defeated the Wolverines came in 2015, a 38-35 shootout.
The 2019 matchup was a shootout as well, with the two teams combining for 952 total yards of offense. Like in 2015, Salisbury came out on top with the 45-38 victory.
Junior quarterback Jack Lanham said the rivalry between the two teams is something that means a lot to the players on both sides.
“We had a players-only meeting, and we just talked about how much it would mean to the seniors to get this win,” Lanham said. “To come out here and play the way we did, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Each year, the game between the two New Jersey Athletic Conference rivals is competitive and plays an important role in each team’s season.
Junior slotback Shamar Gray said he was excited to get back in the win column against their rival.
“We always go to war with them, we always stand toe-to-toe with them and we always took the L,” Gray said. “This year, it felt good to change that and come out with a W.”
The Wolverines (4-1, 1-1 NJAC) began the scoring on the afternoon following a Dante Daniel forced fumble on Salisbury’s first possession of the contest. With the ball on the Wesley 49, Marcellus Pack received a handoff and bounced it outside for a 51-yard score.
After a Salisbury three-and-out, Wesley regained possession at its own 43-yard line. A six-play, 57-yard drive was capped off by a Ruhann Peele wildcat keeper for an eight-yard touchdown.
The Sea Gulls (4-0, 2-0 NJAC) finally started the scoring when Jack Lanham dropped a pass in the bucket down the sideline to Lenard Prue for a 40-yard touchdown.
Salisbury would get another big play at the start of the second quarter, one that coach Wood said was critical in the offensive explosion for Salisbury. Chris Clark received a punt after a Wesley three-and-out and broke several tackles, setting up the SU offense at the Wolverines' 32-yard line.
Wood said this special teams play served as a catalyst for the offense and helped get Salisbury back in the game mentally.
“To me, it started with the punt return from Chris Clark,” Wood said. “We talk about special teams all the time and put the time in at practice, and here’s Chris, who comes up with the big play, provides some momentum for our offense … and for the rest of the game.”
The Gulls would score just three plays later via a 21-yard pitch for Gray that found the end zone, knotting the game up at 14. Gray had a career day for Salisbury, notching 11 carries for 88 yards and three touchdowns.
Gray said there was only one thing on his mind throughout his solid day on the ground.
“I’m just gonna keep trying to find the end zone,” Gray said. “That’s what I’m focused on.”
Salisbury would take its first lead of the ball game after a 32-yard rush for Lanham set up a three-yard touchdown carry for Chad Gleason.
But Wesley answered back, grabbing six the other way from a 79-yard touchdown catch and run from Ricky Hess, bringing the game back to a draw.
The Gulls were able to tack on a field goal before the break, taking a 24-21 lead into the locker room.
At the half, Lanham led the Sea Gull offense with 125 total yards and a touchdown. Wesley QB Jon Mullin had 94 yards and a touchdown through the air, while Pack had an excellent first half as he toted the rock eight times for 104 yards and a score.
Salisbury came up with an important stop to start the second half, forcing a Wolverine punt. On the first possession of the half for the Gulls, Lanham’s 52-yard scramble and three-yard touchdown rush grew the margin to 10.
Wesley was not going down without a fight. On the ensuing possession, Mullin would find Peele for a 24-yard touchdown, setting the score at 31-28.
What followed would be the first of three critical drives for Salisbury. With the offense of Wesley starting to click, Lanham led his offense on an 11-play, 88-yard drive that lasted just under seven minutes and ended with Gray’s second touchdown of the game.
Now facing a 38-28 deficit, the Wolverines were able to move the ball inside the red zone. But the Sea Gull defense would hold strong, forcing Wesley to opt for a 20-yard field goal from Nick Bruhn to make it a one-possession game.
The Salisbury offense followed up its impressive drive with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Gray’s third touchdown of the day.
Wesley tried to make a late rally as Mullin found Peele again for the score. Bruhn’s onside kick attempt would be recovered by Raekwon McCarter, and three minutes later, a 19-yard run from Gleason would seal the deal.
Head coach Sherman Wood said the victory is a result of the team’s execution and hard work throughout the week.
“We knew they would make plays, they’ve got some pretty good athletes,” Wood said. “Our bottom line was just continue to execute, outwork them, keep grinding and eventually, I felt it would come out in our favor.”
Lanham was a threat both in the air and on the ground, throwing for 89 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown as well.
When it comes to his running ability, Lanham said he normally isn’t the guy to carry the ball 17 times, but he is happy to do what the team needs to get the win.
“If I have the opportunity to get the ball to guys more athletic than me, I’m always jumping at it,” Lanham said. “And really, all those guys did a great job too.”
Five Sea Gulls tallied at least eight carries on the day. This was a testament to the success of the run game; of the 506 yards of total offense for Salisbury, 417 yards came on the ground.
The Sea Gulls return to action next Saturday as they host Rowan University for the homecoming game at 1 p.m. Wood said he wants to avoid getting overconfident after the victory.
“Obviously it’s a big conference booster, and now it’s up to me and our staff to keep them focused because it’s not gonna get any easier,” Wood said. “We haven’t played a complete game yet … it puts us in good shape, but we can’t let this feeling go, and we’re gonna work even harder.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information image.