Abraham Ocasio and coach Brad Rzyczycki can agree there is no such thing as a moral victory.
But both conceded that the Gannon University football team’s 38-35 loss to Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-West champion Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Gannon University Field Saturday was close.
“At the end of the day a loss is a loss,” Rzyczycki said. “But on Saturday, there was the potential on what we could do on offense.”
“I was proud of our team and the effort we gave,” he added.
Against the conference’s top-ranked defense in IUP, the Knights produced their largest point total since their win season-opening win over Lake Erie College.
“After the game, they were telling us ‘you guys deserved it, you played better,’” said Ocasio, who made a pair of touchdown catches. “That was the thing that got me the most.”
De’Antwan Williams’ 2-yard run with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left sealed the win and the Western Division championship for No. 14 IUP, which will play Shippensburg University for the conference title Saturday.
The Knights had taken a 35-31 lead midway through the fourth when Ocasio made an acrobatic one-handed catch on a 13-yard fade route from redshirt freshman Liam Nadler.
Nadler tied a season-high with four touchdown passes but also threw three interceptions—two of which came in the final minutes following Williams’ go-ahead touchdown and the other resulting in a defensive touchdown for the Crimson Hawks early in the second quarter.
Nadler also hit sophomore receiver Justin Caliste from 30 yards out and connected on a 15-yard pass with junior running back Jansen Jones for touchdowns in the first half.
His 52-yard pass to Ocasio gave the Knights a 21-20 lead to start the second half.
The Knights tried to build on the momentum they took hold of a week before when they notched their first PSAC win of the season over Lock Haven University, 13-10.
On Saturday, Gannon continued its success on the ground with 113 rushing yards, and, in five red zone possessions, the Knights came away with touchdowns each time.
“In the red zone, we didn’t settle for field goals,” Rzyczycki said. “That was important.”
The West’s top-ranked rushing team, IUP also had success on the ground, grinding out 230 yards, led by 126 from Williams, a Rutgers transfer.
“They also took advantage of some of our injuries we had on defense and were able to run the ball on us,” Rzyczycki said.
Rzyczycki also praised his team’s resiliency, adding offseason conditioning will be vital to next season.
“As a team, we don’t give up,” he said.
“I think (Saturday’s game) shows we’re the best team in the conference. A lot of people are going to throw us in with the other two-win teams, but it all starts somewhere. It’s the first year we’re learning this offense. I think next year is when we really show it.”
The sophomore from New York leads the PSAC West with 10 touchdowns this season. He caught eight passes all of last season.
“It’s nice to have individual stats, but I would trade those for wins,” he said.
Gannon will get one final crack at a win noon Saturday when it hosts Long Island University-Post. Rzyczycki confirmed the game will be played despite rumors of its cancellation due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s 60 minutes to play and a lifetime of memories for our seniors,” he said. “It’s better to end a season with a win than a loss.”