The Gannon University football team took a tough loss in Saturday’s annual Homecoming game, falling to rival Mercyhurst, 38-35, in overtime before a packed house at McConnell Family Stadium.
The scene was set for Homecoming weekend, and the Knights (3-2 overall and 0-2 in PSAC play) had been looking good in their recent games —even their most recent, which was a loss to Slippery Rock.
Mercyhurst, on the other hand, was coming off two very good games that both ended in close losses — 34-31 to East Stroudsburg and 35-34 to Clarion.
Saturday’s rivalry showdown featured plenty of back-and-forth action down to the end. Mercyhurst appeared to have the game won when running back Richie Sanders crossed up the Knights defense and hit Brad Novak for a 69-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes, 37 seconds showing on the clock.
That score put the Lakers in front 35-28. But Gannon took advantage of an excessive celebration penalty by Mercyhurst and wound up with the ball at the Lakers’ 48-yard line to start its final drive in regulation.
The Knights needed nine plays to go the distance, converting a pair of third-down plays to keep the drive alive.
Tyler Johnson capped the march with his third touchdown run of the game— a 1-yard plunge with 21 secon ds remaining in regulation — and Karch Holland’s PAT tied the score at 35-35.
Mercyhurst won the overtime toss and elected to go on defense first. The Lakers’ defense had the better of it, stopping Johnson for no gain on the first play and sacking Zach Phillips for a 4-yard loss on the next.
Phillips’ third-down pass was incomplete and the Knights had to settle for a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Holland, which went wide left.
Mercyhurst then took possession at the Gannon 25 and after three plays netted three yards, Dylan Kondis converted a 39-yard field goal to give Mercyhurst the win.
The game started off with Johnson scoring on a 9-yard rushing touchdown halfway through the first quarter. Mercyhurst answered with a 23-yard passing touchdown from Doug Altavilla to Zach Smith, leaving the score tied at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was fairly quick and was handled primarily by Mercyhurst.
The Lakers scored on Sanders’ 1-yard plunge at the beginning of quarter. Then, after multiple possessions by both teams, Mercyhurst reached the end zone again. This time it was a 5-yard pass from Altavilla to Bryce Mostoller, making it 21-7, and that’s the way it remained at halftime.
The third quarter is when Gannon turned up the pace and that all started with a dynamic drive by the Knights. This was capped by Phillips and his 47-yard touchdown connection to Nico Law.
From there the Knights’ defense was solid, holding Mercyhurst to a three-and-out. Gannon capitalized on the punt and in a six-play, 97-yard drive the Knights scored again on Johnson’s 12-yard touchdown run, tying the score at 21-21.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle. This started with Mercyhurst’s Sanders scoring on a 46-yard run. Then in reply Phillips connected on another passing touchdown for Gannon, this one going to wide receiver Will Davis for 30 yards.
That’s when Mercyhurst looked into its bag of tricks to catch Gannon off guard with Sanders’ 69-yard scoring pass to Novak that put the Lakers ahead in the final minutes.
Gannon won the stat sheet battle, finishing with 452 yards of total offense to 342 for Mercyhurst. The Knights racked up 24 first downs to just 14 for Mercyhurst, did not commit a turnover and were penalized just twice for 25 yards. One of those flags, though — a roughing the punter penalty — led to the Lakers’ second touchdown, and a long punt return set up the third score.
Johnson finished with 142 yards rushing in 21 carries to go with his three touchdowns. Phillips completed 18-of-26 passes for 228 yards and was not intercepted. Quad Law led the receiving corps with seven catches for 67 yards and younger brother Nico had three grabs for 61 yards. Davis also caught three passes for 49 yards.
Gannon will return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday at Edinboro’s Sox Harrison Stadium. The game can be seen live on the SPORTSfever Television Network and ESPN3.
Gannon has won the last three games of the series, including a 52-7 victory the last time two teams met at Sox Harrison Stadium. Edinboro, 4-1, is coming off a huge win against Clarion, 62-14.