The Gannon University football team lost its second heartbreaker in two weeks, falling 24-22 to rival Mercyhurst Saturday in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference game at Tullio Field.
The Knights, who dropped a 49-45 thriller to Slippery Rock the previous weekend, fell to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in PSAC play going into Saturday’s Homecoming matchup with Edinboro. Kickoff is scheduled for noon at McConnell Family Stadium.
Gannon’s Marc Jones continued his breakout season, rushing for 154 yards to become the sixth player in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for a season.
Jones now has 1,032 yards in five games, which is the fifth-highest single-season total in Gannon football history. He became the first player in school history to open the season with five straight 100-yard games and maintained his top spot in the NCAA Division II rushing race.
Jones’ 3-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter helped pull the Knights to within five points of the Lakers at 21-16. But a failed two-point run left the margin at five points, and Mercyhurst’s Mark Shaffer booted a 22-yard field goal on the ensuing drive.
Shaffer’s field goal extended Mercyhurst’s lead to 24-16 with 12 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the game.
Gannon responded with a 10-play, 88-yard march that was capped by Jimmy Keefe’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Dontae Owens with 8:14 left to play.
The Knights once again went for the two-point conversion in an attempt to tie the game, but Keefe’s pass attempt failed.
Mercyhurst retained possession for more than 6 minutes on the next drive before turning the ball over on downs, but Gannon was unable to mount a successful drive and went four-and-out with a little over a minute to play. That would be the Knights’ final possession of the game.
Tyler Palka also scored for Gannon on a 3-yard run midway through the first period, which tied the score at 7-7. The Knights went ahead in the first minute of the second quarter on Karch Holland’s 23-yard field goal.
But Mercyhurst scored twice in the final 3:46 of the second quarter – once on Brad Novak’s 42-yard touchdown pass from Doug Altavilla and the other on Altavilla’s 1-yard run, which came with just 26 seconds left in the half. A two-point conversion following Altavilla’s run gave the Lakers a 21-10 lead at halftime.
Gannon appeared to be poised to reclaim the lead after Novak’s touchdown as Jarod Morrison’s punt with 69 seconds left in the half touched a Mercyhurst player and Gannon recovered at the Lakers’ 39-yard line.
But on the next play, Keefe’s pass was intercepted and with the help of a personal foul call against Gannon on the interception return, Mercyhurst had possession at the Knights’ 45-yard line. A 43-yard pass play set up Altavilla’s short scoring plunge.
Keefe made his third start under center for the Knights and completed 17 passes for 220 yards to go with one touchdown and one interception.
Last week, Keefe visited with the “Prime Time Sports Guys” on WERG-90.5 FM and talked about how he felt being in the driver’s seat of the offense.
“This offensive line is a very reliable group,” he said. “Finding my rhythm in that pocket becomes easier each week, and they set up (Marc) Jones to make the great plays he makes.”
Jones holds a 159-yard edge over the No. 2 rusher in Division II, and his 11 touchdown runs also lead the division.
The close game stayed the way it did thanks to the Knight defense. Geremy Paige led the team with nine total tackles and teamed with James Simms for a big sack in the first quarter.
Defensive back D’Won Walker, a redshirt freshman transfer from Rutgers, would show his lock-down ability on one of the Lakers’ last possessions. That would set up Gannon for one more attempt to take the lead.