Knights hand Lakers loss

The Gannon University football team showed it has something in common with Oliver Hazard Perry Saturday— neither of them was willing to surrender the Niagara.

For Perry, defending the USS Niagara meant saving a ship, but for Gannon in its 30-27 win over Mercyhurst College Saturday, the retaining of the Niagara Cup possibly symbolized the resuscitation of a sinking season.

“It could have been downhill from here,” redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Tapscott said. “It means a lot getting this win, and hopefully we can build on it.”

In front of 2,150 fans at Mercyhurst’s Tullio Field and amid a steady mist, Gannon overcame a 20-10 second-half deficit to defeat Mercyhurst for the second straight year.

Gannon coach Jim Kiernan said the game illustrated the best of college football.

“(The rivalries) are one of the big things of college football,” he said. “It’s not at the same level as Michigan-Michigan State, or Auburn-Alabama, but for us, it is.”

The loss was all too familiar for Mercyhurst, the defending Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion and NCAA quarterfinalist, which relinquished a secon-half lead to the Knights for the second consecutive season. Gannon came back to defeat Mercyhurst 14-10 in 2010.

The Lakers seemed to have complete control in the first half, as quarterback Travis Rearick engineered a six-play, 54-yard touchdown drive, resulting in a 5-yard Ian Wild touchdown reception.

The Gannon defense stiffened by forcing several punts, before senior linebacker Kevin Borton intercepted a pass in Mercyhurst territory. Redshirt junior kicker Matt Szczupakowski eventually put the Knights on the board with a 21-yard field goal.

After Mercyhurst padded its lead with another Rearick touchdown pass just before halftime, Gannon responded when Tapscott hit senior wide receiver Lawrence Coleman for a 38-yard touchdown.

This connection proved to be a vital part of Gannon’s offense, as Tapscott found Coleman for touchdowns three times in the second half.

Coleman, who is playing in his first season since transferring from Erie Community College in Buffalo, leads the team with 15 catches for 218 yards and four touchdowns and has emerged as Tapscott’s favorite target.

“It’s just that quarterback- receiver chemistry — I trust him and he trusts me,” he said. It’s just a matter of reading the defense, and just making adjustments based on what you see.”

On the ensuing possession, the Lakers endured a demoralizing blow when Rearick suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the third quarter. Rearick, who was named to the PSAC West second team in 2010, watched the rest of the game from the sidelines, while backup Anthony Vendemia was thrown into the fire.

Kiernan said Rearick’s departure marked a crucial moment in the game.

“When you lose your starting quarterback, obviously there is going to be an impact, because you’re playing your backup and he’s not going to have had as many reps in practice,” he said. “At the same time, we were playing really good defense, and I think momentum was on our side.”

Despite Rearick’s injury, Mercyhurst restored its 10-point lead when it blocked a Gannon punt and returned it for touchdown. The Knights provided an immediate answer on its next possession, when Tapscott hit Coleman on a 22-yard touchdown.

The red-hot duo connected for the third time midway through the fourth quarter on a 12-yard touchdown, which put the Knights ahead 24-20.

Gannon ultimately put the game away on freshman running back Alex Papson’s 12-yard touchdown run on fourth down with two minutes remaining.

Tapscott enjoyed his best day as a collegian, finishing 14-of-27 for 202 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

However, Kiernan said Tapscott’s game was a long time in the making.

“I think the growing up moment was the first game,” he said. “Everything just came together for four quarters on Saturday.”

With the victory, Gannon improved to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in PSAC play.

The Knights will look to build upon their win, when they travel to Cal Saturday.

The 15th-ranked Vulcans carry a 3-1 record, and are among the favorites in the PSAC West.

Coleman said the Knights will have their hands full with Cal.

“This is the biggest game of the year,” he said. “We’re going to have to play even better than we did this week.”

JOE CUNEO

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