The Gannon University football team suffered its first loss of the season, 34-13, on the road Saturday against two-time defending PSAC champion Slippery Rock.
Both teams were undefeated with three wins entering the PSAC opener, and the Knights will look to rebound when they make their second conference start against rival Mercyhurst in Saturday’s annual Homecoming game at McConnell Family Stadium.
Gannon got off to a quick start in the loss to Slippery Rock, which moved up to No. 9 in the Division II rankings.
On just the second play from scrimmage, Knights’ senior defensive back Mike Zanders II forced a fumble and was able to pick it up and return it all the way to The Rock’s 5-yard line.
But Gannon was unable to punch the ball into the end zone and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Karch Holland that made it 3-0.
On Slippery Rock’s ensuing drive, the host team needed just three plays to move from its own 22-yard line to the Gannon 4-yard line. Running back Shamar Greene delivered the key play, as he broke off a 43-yard run to reach the 4-yard line.
Greene’s run proved to be the longest of the night for The Rock, as Gannon’s defense held the running game in check for most of the rest of the game.
But Slippery Rock would end up putting 17 points on the board by the end of the first quarter on two short touchdown passes from Don King III and a 34-yard field goal by Jake Chapla.
The Rock added to its lead in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Dontez Rash, but Gannon turned up its intensity for the rest of the half.
This included a 59-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Marcus Jones midway through the quarter that cut Slippery Rock’s lead to 24-10.On the last drive of the half, quarterback Zach Phillips was able to lead the Knights 55 yards down the field to set up Holland for another field goal.
This attempt also would be good, from 40 yards out, and that would put the score at 24-13 at halftime in favor of Slippery Rock.
Gannon failed to generate much momentum in the third and fourth quarters, though, as Slippery Rock held the Knights on all seven of their second-half possessions.
Five of those drives ended in Gannon punting the ball away, and four of those punts were the results of three-and-out drives.
Slippery Rock widened the gap on the scoreboard with a third-quarter field goal and a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
The Rock held Gannon to just 74 total yards in the second half and 302 for the game.
But the game did yield one positive statistic for Gannon, and that was Zanders recording 17 tackles. That’s the third-highest single-game total in school history and was just three short of the record.
Zanders also climbed the list of all-time tackles for Gannon, passing Chris Popovich (1990-93) along the way. Zanders currently has 299 career tackles.
The Knights now set their sights on rival Mercyhurst, which will visit McConnell Family Stadium for Saturday’s Homecoming game. Kickoff is set for noon.
The Lakers are 1-3, with that one win coming on a 23-19 victory over Kutztown. More recently, the team lost 35-34 to Clarion last week.
Gannon will look to defend the Niagara Cup, the rivalry’s traveling award, after defeating the Lakers, 16-13, last year at Mercyhurst.