Gannon captures home opener


In their first game of the season, the Gannon University Knights read the Southern Connecticut State Owls their rights and locked down a 31-9 home opener win Saturday afternoon at McConnell Family Stadium.

Gannon beat the Owls with an unstoppable ground game in redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Phillips’ first start at the helm as a Knight.

The battery of Phillips and redshirt senior running back Tyler Johnson combined for 336 rushing yards and found the end zone four times throughout the game.

Despite the outcome, Southern Connecticut State got on the board first, as the Owls drove 80 yards on six plays in their first possession.

Owls quarterback Robert Nittolo threw a 23-yard dime to Mark Thomas 2 minutes, 55 seconds into the game for a touchdown to put his team ahead 6-0.

The score remained at 6-0 after Gannon senior defensive end Matthew Gawlik blocked the Owls PAT kick.

Gannon answered quickly with a 50-yard kickoff return from junior Brandon Mansell landing on the Owls’ 44-yard line.

Then, Phillips took care of the rest and got the Knights their first touchdown of the season and yes, they got the extra point putting them ahead, 7-6.

After shaking off the first-game nerves, Gannon buckled down again and scored 2 more touchdowns in the second quarter, moving the ball 91 yards in eight plays in the first drive of the quarter.

Phillips again came up clutch for the team with an eight-yard rush at 10:24 to put the Knights ahead 14-6. Then after a punt that landed the Knights at their own 47-yard line. Johnston collected the first 19 yards of the touchdown push and Phillips found gold 34 yards out with 2:12 left in the half to put Gannon up 21-6.

The Owls weren’t done fighting yet. Thanks to a controversial call right before the clock ran out, Southern Connecticut State got a chance to put some notches on the board.

With five seconds left, the Owls were 10 yards from a touchdown when Nittolo threw an incomplete pass as the clock hit zero.

But the men in stripes put one second up on the clock and Connecticut’s Mike McNalley hit a 27-yard field goal to make the score 21-9 going into halftime.

The final half belonged to the Knights as they outscored the Owls 10-0. Redshirt freshman Nico Law took the opening kickoff for a 26-yard run to the 41-yard line. After not getting very far, junior Karch Holland drilled a 47-yard field goal through the uprights at the 10:06 mark for a 24-9 Gannon advantage.

Holland’s 47-yarder was the sixth longest in program history.

The Knights had one more touchdown that afternoon and it came in the fourth quarter.

After eight plays and 80 yards, Phillips capped it off with one play with 4:09 left in the game, making the final score 31-9 in favor of Gannon.

Gannon recorded its fifth consecutive season-opening win in the sunny and 75-degree conditions, making it the third straight win over Southern Connecticut State.

The Knights return to action at 1 p.m. Saturday at Shippensburg.

According to the PSAC preseason coaches poll, Shippensburg was predicted to finish second in the conference’s Eastern Division.

Not having met since 2011, Gannon and Shippensburg have split their two all-time meetings.


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