Gannon struggles against Clarion

When the PSAC West Division preseason football rankings were released in August, Gannon and Clarion were as far away as possible from each other. Gannon was selected No. 1 and Clarion dead last at No. 8.

Those rankings didn’t faze Clarion, as the Golden Eagles stole a 47-31 win over Gannon in front of 1,705 fans at McConnell Family Stadium Saturday.

The win left Clarion (4-0 overall, 1-0) as the only unbeaten team left in the PSAC.

The Knights couldn’t find an answer for either the Clarion offense or defense. The Clarion offense produced 494 yards, while the defense sacked Gannon QB Liam Nadler six times, doubling the number of sacks Gannon has allowed this season.

A Golden Eagle four-man rush caused problems for Nadler all day and Clarion first-year coach Chris Weibel said the defensive line’s speed is what gives his team an advantage.

“[We have] more speed up front than anything,” Weibel said. “We’re not real big up front, but we’re fast, so we can do some different things and rock some guys into different gaps.”

Clarion extended its 26-17 halftime lead on a Matt Lehman pass to Connor Simmons for a 44-yard score with 4 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Golden Eagles a 33-17 advantage.

Gannon opened the final quarter with a 2:07 drive that ended in a Brendan Klemensic 32-yard touchdown reception from Nadler. Klemensic broke three tackles to find the end zone for his second score of the day. Jesstin Hamm pulled in a two-point conversion to move Gannon within eight.

However, Delrece Williams gave the momentum back to the Eagles on their next drive when he escaped for a 71-yard score. Williams had 148 yards on 29 carries, including two TDs.

Early in the second half, Gannon started to slowly gain momentum before costly penalties finished the Knights.

Gannon seemed to have forced a Clarion fourth-and-six on its own 42, but a roughing the passer penalty gave Clarion a first down. Gannon got the ball back about two minutes later, starting on its own 20, before marching to the Clarion 39 to set up a third-and-three. But another penalty would hurt the Knights.

Nadler’s pass to Eli Quinter was well short of the first down, as Gannon was pushed back to its own 45 after a personal foul penalty on Quinter.

“The referees weren’t very good, but they weren’t the reason we lost the game,” Gannon coach Brad Rzyczycki said. “We got outplayed by a better team.”

On the following Clarion drive, Gannon appeared to have forced a three-and-out, but that was squashed when Matt Astorino was called for roughing the kicker, which eventually led to an Eagle score.

“We didn’t play as well as we could have, and we didn’t play up to our potential,” Nadler said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, and it caught up to us.”

Gannon had 11 penalties for 108 yards, compared to Clarion’s six for 69 yards.

Remaining unbeaten was the key focus all week for Weibel’s squad heading into Saturday’s contest and he said grabbing a win over the preseason favorite was a big momentum builder.

“It’s huge. That’s what we spoke about all week,” Weibel said about grabbing the first PSAC game of the year. “They rose to the occasion and they played hard. I give all the credit to the guys.”

Gannon returns to action Saturday when PSAC foe Slippery Rock comes to town for a noon kickoff in the Knights’ annual Homecoming game.

Rzyczycki said his group needs to reflect and refocus before Saturday.

“They have to understand and they have to make it hurt for a while and Monday we have to get back to work,” Rzyczycki said.

 

DOMINIC SANSONE

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