Justin Caliste’s tip-toe touchdown run down the sideline in the first quarter Saturday served as a perfect metaphor for the Gannon football team, as the Knights walked the tightrope in their opening loss to Lake Erie, 13-10.
“It’s never just one thing, but you have to look at it in totality,” said coach Jim Kiernan. “One thing I saw was that we just took the momentum right out of our hands.”
Gannon took an early 10-0 lead after Caliste’s 87-yard punt return in the first quarter, before the Knight offense shut down for the second half.
The non-conference opener was a baptism by fire for the Knights’ offense, which started freshmen at several key positions, including quarterback, running back and offensive line.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Tapscott made his first collegiate start, and completed 15-of-34 passes for 147 yards and an interception. On the ground, true freshman running back Alex Papson took the bulk of the carries, finishing with 16 rushes for 42 yards.
Despite an abundance of preparation from coaches, the young Knights had to endure a steep learning curve for much of the game. New language coupled with a much brisker overall pace to the game proved to be challenges for many of the young Gannon players, said Kiernan.
“The speed of the game is always hard to prepare for when you’re not used to it,” he said. “It’s kind of like a foreign language that you think you’ve nailed down in high school, but when you get to college, they’re speaking it in class.”
Tapscott, who beat out sophomore Gabe Hernandez for the starting spot a week before the opener, echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“(Speed) was a huge difference,” he said. “I hadn’t played since my senior year in high school, and it was hard to adjust to the speed of the game.”
Tapscott, however, showed poise in the game’s opening possession, when he completed 3-of-5 passes for 26 yards in a drive that resulted in fellow freshman Matt Szczupakowski’s 38-yard field goal.
The Storm offense got on the board with a six play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a Kameron Alexander 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Both offenses struggled to muster any kind of momentum for the next two quarters, before Lake Erie put together a sustained touchdown drive in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Brendan Gallagher found Cole Gordon in the end zone for 9 yards to put the Storm up 13-10. Alexander made a key fourth-down conversion, when his 1-yard run gave Lake Erie a fresh set of downs just inside Gannon territory.
The Knights had one last-ditch effort to score, but the Storm tipped and intercepted a Tapscott pass with less than a minute remaining to ice the victory.
Gannon’s defense did a solid job throughout the game, forcing four turnovers while limiting the Lake Erie offense to a pair of scores despite giving up 371 total yards.
However, redshirt senior defensive Cory Borden was quick to lay praise on the young core for hanging in the game.
“They grew up fast within those first few weeks of camp, and I know they’ll just continue to grow and improve as unit,” said Borden, who recorded a sack and made a key fumble recovery.
The Knights will attempt to continue making strides when they make their 2011 home debut Saturday against Shippensburg at noon.
Kiernan said his young team will work some things out before taking stepping on the turf at Gannon University Field Saturday.
“We’ll take one and see what we did, and try to correct any mistakes,” he said. “You want to make a big jump from weeks one to two.”
Papson said he knows the team will come around; it’s just a matter of time.
“The youth thing is an issue, but we’re all playing this for a reason, and I know things will improve.”