The end of an era: Recapping SU football's Wesley rivalry
One of the great rivalries of Division III football came to an end on March 13.
In July of last year, Delaware State University announced its plans to acquire Wesley College. The move made DSU the first historically Black university to absorb an institution that is not classified as a Historically Black College and University.
The move comes after recent financial documents show Wesley had been working through a deficit for several years.
For many, this may not seem like significant news. But fans of D-III football and Salisbury University's football program know different.
The rivalry between Salisbury and Wesley spans five decades. Wesley holds the all-time series lead, 21-10.
The matchup between the Sea Gulls and Wolverines first debuted in 1986.
This was Wesley’s first year as a Division III football program. It was year 14 for the Sea Gulls.
It was hardly a close affair. Salisbury claimed a 63-13 victory.
SU finished the 1986 regular season with an unblemished record and a trip to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Playoffs. This was one of just three undefeated regular seasons in program history.
After a deep postseason run, the Gulls fell to Augustana in the National Championship.
The next two matchups with Wesley ended in similar fashion, with the Sea Gulls winning by a combined score of 138-6.
After facing in three consecutive seasons, the teams did not meet for five years. They returned to action on Oct. 23, 1993.
This time, the Wolverines had the advantage.
Wesley College knocked off SU for the first time in the series by a 45-30 margin. This sparked a long run of Wolverine success in the rivalry and a drought of sorts for Salisbury.
After reaching the National Championship in 1986, Salisbury would not return to the “big dance” until 2002.
Wesley went on to win seven of the next eight matchups between the two schools. After three straight SU wins from ’02-04, the Wolverines rattled off 10 straight wins against the Sea Gulls.
The two teams split the final six games of the series, with each side claiming three wins.
Two of those Salisbury wins were a lot more important than they appear on the stat sheet.
The first came in 2015. Salisbury entered the game with a 5-2 record and hopes of still reaching the NCAA Tournament. Wesley entered action at 8-1 and having won the last 10 faceoffs against the Sea Gulls.
The game suited the rivalry well; the teams tied 7-7 in the first quarter, 14-14 in the second and 14-14 in the third. With 15 minutes to play, the teams were locked at 35.
A 36-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Alex Potocko was the difference. With 2:23 remaining, Salisbury took a lead they would not relinquish.
Seven days later, it seemed as if the win would not matter. Salisbury found themselves trailing Frostburg State 27-7 entering the fourth quarter.
They went on to win, 28-27, securing the largest comeback in program history since 1984.
The Gulls had become New Jersey Athletic Conference Co-Champions in their first year in the conference and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The second of these victories was in the last full season for SU football. While it didn’t directly lead to the postseason, it felt just as much like a postseason game.
The maroon and gold claimed the 30th installment of the Route 13 Rivalry in a shootout, 45-38. The win kept Salisbury undefeated on the year and propelled them to the third undefeated regular season in school history.
The Sea Gulls rode the momentum to the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship and the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. The team defeated their first-round opponent, Maritime (N.Y.), by an 83-0 margin.
After another tournament victory over Union, 62-41, the Gulls eventually fell to Muhlenburg in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
This season’s victory over Wesley gave Salisbury its 10th and final win in the series.
Looking back, who would have thought watching Wolverines and Sea Gulls go at it would have been so much fun to watch?
By NICK LEWIS
Photo courtesy of SU Sports Information.