Football suffers two losses to begin spring season


Gannon University running back Melvin Blanks ran for 142 yards against Davenport March 20.

Nicholas Frisina, Sports Writer

The Gannon University football team kicked off its five-game spring season with a pair of losses – one at home and one on the road.

The Knights saw their first action of the season against Davenport on March 20. In the first-ever meeting between the two teams, Gannon experienced a close game but lost, 30-22, in a game played at Veterans Memorial Stadium. And Saturday, the Knights fell 42-7 on the road to Tiffin.

This was the first couple of games under new head coach Erik Raeburn, who was introduced as the new head coach of the program in November 2019.

In the matchup with Davenport, Gannon appeared to be rolling on offense and defense. However, the Knights had too many turnovers and they proved to be costly as the game went on.

On the offensive side, Gannon outgained Davenport by 100 yards. The Knights saw quite a bit of production from running back Melvin Blanks.

Blanks had 142 rushing yards on 23 carries and 58 receiving yards with just one reception. One key play was when Blanks scored a touchdown on a 44-yard run early in the first quarter.

Raeburn was appreciative of Blanks’ versatility in his first game of the season.

“I thought Melvin played really well against Davenport,” he said. “He ran the ball hard, caught the ball out of the backfield and was solid in pass protection when they blitzed.”

Blanks ranked first on the team in rushing and second in receiving.

Johnny Freeman also pitched in some key receptions. Freeman provided 81 receiving yards with just four receptions.

Nick Demchuk started at quarterback for Gannon. Demchuk was 10-for-25 with 165 passing yards and one touchdown pass, but was intercepted twice. Demchuk was able to connect with Sam East for an 18-yard touchdown pass.

The Knights were also productive on defense. They were led by Trey Baker, who recorded six solo tackles and assisted with four additional tackles.

Gannon’s defense looked tough at the outset of the game. After an interception on the first drive of the game, Davenport was spotted on Gannon’s 6-yard line. The Knights had an impressive goal line stand that only allowed a Davenport field goal.

From that point forward Gannon built an early 14-3 lead. However, that lead quickly dissipated as Davenport went on to score 27 consecutive points.

Another impressive defensive stand happened when Matt Wiitanen blocked a late field goal attempt from Davenport. This was a big turnover and gave Gannon a spark of life trailing by eight points with two minutes remaining.

But after the Knights got the ball back they were not able to make anything happen on offense, and they wound up with the 30-22 loss.

Gannon saw its next action as it traveled to play its first road game of the season at Tiffin.

The Knights saw a tough test in Tiffin as the host Dragons dominated almost the entire game.

In the first quarter alone, Tiffin took a 14-0 lead. Gannon was able to score a touchdown in the second quarter. But that would not be enough.

Gannon struggled on both sides of the ball in its second matchup of the season. The only touchdown of the game came on a 23-yard pass from Demchuk to Alex Whittaker.

This marked Whittaker’s first touchdown and reception in his college career.

The Tiffin defense held the Knights to a quiet game of 220 total yards on offense. Most of the offensive production was placed on Michiah Burton and Whittaker.

Burton ran for 95 yards on 28 attempts, and Whittaker pulled in three receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.

One thing to note is that with plenty of freshmen and sophomores on the team, Gannon is inexperienced.

“We are very young and had a bunch of guys playing in their first college game,” Raeburn said. “I did think our effort was excellent and they showed some perseverance.”

Raeburn noted that this short spring season will give his young team experience that will benefit them heading into the fall.

One of the biggest challenges facing the team, according to Raeburn, is consistency.

“Trying to learn how to eliminate the ups and downs and playing consistently down after down is the biggest challenge for us right now,” he said.

Having a delayed season in the middle of the pandemic has given Raeburn a good insight into the kind of men he coaches.

“I feel like our team has done a really good job with their attitude this year,” he said. “With all the disappointment that comes with the pandemic, our guys seem to take it in stride and not get too frustrated.

“They have worked hard and tried to make the best of a difficult situation,” he continued.

With just three games left, Raeburn wants to make the most of the shortened season and continue to instill the expectations he has for the program.

“Our vision for the program is that our players will have a great experience,” he said. “We expect them to work really hard, but we want them to enjoy being part of the program and develop friendships with their teammates that will last a lifetime.”

Gannon will see its next action in another matchup with Davenport at 6 p.m. Friday, April 9, in Caledonia, Mich.

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