Knights drop second straight game

The Gannon University football team continued to endure the usual growing pains characteristic of a young team in its loss to Shippensburg University Saturday at Gannon University Field.

In what initially appeared to be a close conference game, the ’Ship sailed away from the Knights, and left them in their wake, cruising to a 41-13 win.

Gannon exchanged early salvos with the Red Raiders before Shippensburg pulled away, rendering the second half a cat-and-mouse chase, according to coach Jim Kiernan.

“We put ourselves in a hole,” he said. “We maybe had a few opportunities in the third that we didn’t take advantage of.”

“When you’re in a hole, and you’re young and inexperienced, you’re really playing with one hand behind your back because you’re limiting yourself to the pass.”

Shippensburg gained the upper hand on its opening possession, when it compiled a 56-yard drive culminating with Steven Adams’ 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Trevor Harmon.

Gannon responded when it capitalized on an interception by senior defensive back Chris Cook. The following play, freshman quarterback Daniel Tapscott got off a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Evan Twombly before absorbing a nasty hit as the pocket collapsed.

Although the play produced six points, the pressure put on by the Shippensburg defensive front proved to be a glimpse of what was to come, as Gannon’s quarterbacks were under duress for much of the game.

Tapscott said getting used to the position and collegiate level has been the most daunting challenge in his first two games.

“The biggest thing is adjusting to the speed of the defense, and understanding the complicated defenses you see,” he said.

On Gannon’s next possession following the touchdown, Tapscott was sacked and stripped of the ball by Shippensburg defensive lineman Dainen Green on the Knights’ 23. On the ensuing play, Shippensburg quarter Zach Zulli broke the 7-7 tie when he connected with receiver Bryan Barley on a 23-yard touchdown pass.

The touchdown was part of a barrage of 24 unanswered points from the Red Raiders, who took a commanding 31-7 lead at the half.

Gannon came up with another score late in the third quarter, when junior tight end Donny Mallin hauled in a 1-yard Tapscott pass on fourth-and-goal.

In the fourth quarter, the Knights got a look at backup quarterback and redshirt sophomore Gabe Hernandez, who separated his shoulder before yielding to redshirt freshman Ty Watson. Despite the substitution, Kiernan was quick to say that Tapscott will be the starter for the foreseeable future.

“Dan is our starter,” he said. “I don’t think he’s made bad decisions, but we’ve got to get every player in the spot they need to be.”

Tapscott finished 18-of-41 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Tapscott was able to find junior receiver Jonathon Jones eight times for 99 yards. However Jones’s career day ended abruptly with a separated shoulder in the fourth quarter.

One bright spot for the Knights was provided by freshman receiver Justin Caliste, who has proved that he can handle punt and kick return duties, and possibly more, according to Kiernan.

“He’s definitely a guy when he gets the ball in his hands, he has the potential to take it the distance,” Kiernan said. “He’s touching the ball nine to 11 times a game, and now let’s try to phase him in and get the ball into his hands more.”

For the 5-foot 5-inch shifty freshman, Caliste said he’s willing to help the game in any way he can.

“I think that I’m probably one of the biggest team players in terms of wanting to help my team in any way possible,” he said. “Right now, I view my role kind as like the sixth man on a basketball team or the x-factor whose not playing all the time, but can help capture the momentum.”

The Knights will try to notch their first win of the season at noon Saturday, when they host Millersville at Gannon University Field.

Gannon lost a 29-26 heartbreaker to the Mauraders last season in their first-ever meeting.

For the Knights, the game poses a challenge to rebound from a tough start, said Keirnan.

“As a coaching staff, we have to figure out how to make it a one-week loss, and not a nine-week loss,” he said.

The game will also serve as part of Ali’s Rally Organ Donor Awareness Day.

As part of the festivities, admission is free. However, donations will be accepted and will benefit Ali’s Rally Foundation, which serves to raise money for Upstate New York Transplant Services.

JOE CUNEO

[email protected]