SALISBURY, Md. – A wild back-and-forth battle ended with the No. 11/13 Salisbury University football team clinching its second consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament and its third straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship with a 37-23 victory over the TCNJ Lions on Saturday.
It is the fourth NJAC title since Salisbury joined the NJAC as an associate member in 2015.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Three plays into Salisbury's first drive, Billy Gant connected with Hunter Cleaver on a slant with a 51-yard touchdown pass. The point-after attempt was blocked and returned by TCNJ's Joe Ciempola for a defensive two-point conversion.
- The two teams traded punts midway through the first, Salisbury got the ball on a goal-to-go situation after a 38-yard run by Gant. The drive stalled near the goal line and Bert Schrecongost knocked in a 21-yard field goal attempt to put Salisbury up 9-2 with three minutes to go in the first.
- The passing game got going again near the end of the first. Gant found Chad Gleason on a quick seam for a 28-yard touchdown to push Salisbury's lead to 16-2.
- A couple of special teams miscues by Salisbury kept the game level at 16-2 until Charles Barley jumped a Stephen Begen curl route and returned it 35 yards for a pick-six.
- On the first play of the ensuing drive, the TCNJ offense took advantage of a double move and Begen found Max Hayford for a 77-yard touchdown pass to cut the Salisbury lead to 23-9 with 3:27 left in the half.
- TCNJ kept the momentum after the touchdown. Nick Celli forced Gant to fumble and the ball was returned to the one-yard line. Mark Pacini took it into the endzone a play later to trim the SU lead to 23-16.
- Salisbury stopped the brief TCNJ run on the next drive. A play after a 72-yard gallop by Gleason, Gant scampered to score from three yards out to give the maroon and gold the 30-16 lead at the half.
- After a scoreless third, TCNJ struck first in the second half when Begen scored off a six-yard quarterback sweep to bring the game to within one score, 30-23, with 12:31 left in regulation.
- Salisbury added insurance courtesy of a 45-yard Gleason run to extend the lead to 37-23. The defense stood tall to declaw the Lions.
SALISBURY GAME NOTES
- Salisbury totaled 454 yards of offense with 340 rushing yards.
- Chad Gleason only carried the ball three times but registered 146 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Gleason also reeled in a pair of passes for 38 yards and a receiving score.
- Billy Gant was 5-for-14 passing for 114 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Gant also tallied 20 rushes for a season-best 96 yards and a rushing touchdown.
- Joey Bildstein recorded eight rushes for 58 yards.
- Hunter Cleaver's lone reception was the 51-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
- The front seven played well for the Sea Gulls with five sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 13 rushing yards.
- Charles Barley had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was the second consecutive game with a defensive score. Barley also added a fumble recovery.
- Jimmy Celentano led all tacklers with 10 stops, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
- Jamere Furbush tallied seven tackles.
- Sam Pagella and Sam Pavlick each notched five stops. Pavlick added two tackles for loss while Pagella had 1.5 tackles for loss.
TCNJ GAME NOTES
- Stephen Begen was 14-of-31 passing for 221 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
- Max Heyford had a game-high four receptions for 112 yards and a score.
- TCNJ forced four Salisbury turnovers with three fumbles and an interception.
- Michael Siwak led TCNJ with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
- Salisbury will wrap up the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 13 against the William Paterson Pioneers.
- The NJAC contest with kickoff at 1 p.m. at Sea Gull Stadium.
- Before the game, Salisbury will recognize its graduating seniors for Senior Day.
Salisbury University is a proud member of NCAA Division III with primary membership in the Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference, along with the New Jersey Athletic Conference for football and the Metropolitan Swimming and Diving Conference for men's and women's swimming. With over 500 student-athletes in 21 varsity sports, SU is recognized as one of the most competitive intercollegiate athletics programs regardless of division, and dedicated coaches and staff that foster excellence on-and-off the field. The Sea Gulls have celebrated 22 team national championships, 24 individual national champions, 184 conference championships and 41 Academic All-Americans.
To learn more about the tradition of excellence with Sea Gull Athletics, visit www.SUSeaGulls.com or on social media @SUSeaGulls.