Knights defeat 14th-ranked Slippery Rock

Gannon University’s Lawrence Coleman said he told teammates at halftime of Saturday’s win over Slippery Rock University that the Knights would prevail, despite being on the wrong side of a 20-7 score.

Fortunately for Gannon, Coleman is a man of his word.

The senior wide receiver accounted for three touchdowns, as Gannon generated a furious rally that resulted in a 33-27 win over the then 14th-ranked Rock.

“(The first half) was pretty much déjà vu,” said Coleman. “We’ve been saying it all year—we were beating ourselves in that first half.

“We felt like we didn’t make them earn those points in the first half, so we said ‘they’re the No. 14 team in the country, let’s make them earn that.’”

After Gannon was guilty of committing a comedy of errors in the first half, the Knights flipped the script on the Rock, reeling off 20 straight points to open the second half.

The Knights improved to 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference by defeating a nationally ranked team in the closing weeks for the second time in the last three years. The Knights also defeated Bloomsburg University 10-7 in 2009.

It was also the highest-ranked team the Knights have defeated under coach Jim Kiernan.

“We haven’t been on the winning side as much as we wanted to this season, but if we were going to make a statement, this is the one,” Kiernan said.

However, in the game’s early going, Gannon University Field looked to be the Rock’s quarry.

On Gannon’s first offensive snap, Slippery Rock (8-2, 6-1) intercepted redshirt freshman Daniel Tapscott’s pass, and took immediate control of the game.

The Knights finally got on the board when Gannon took advantage on the first Tapscott-Coleman connection of the day, but another interception coupled with a pair of Slippery Rock field goals put the Knights on rocky terrain going into the halftime locker room.

“There’s not a bag full of magic that you can just pull out and change everything,” Kiernan said. “We just needed to execute better.”

On the Knights’ first possession of the second half, they marched down the field for a clutch 79-yard drive, culminating with a 6-yard Tapscott-to-Coleman strike.

Kiernan said the drive was the turning point of the game.

The suddenly red-hot Tapscott followed it up with another touchdown toss, this time an 11-yard pass to senior tight end Evan Twombly.

Gannon finally took the lead when Slippery Rock muffed a punt in its own territory, and the Knights turned it into a Matt Szuczupakowski field goal to begin the fourth quarter.

The crowd of 1,750 on hand for Homecoming and senior day festivities, which had been just trying to stay warm, was suddenly in full throat as the Knights made their charge.

Sophomore running back Jansen Jones said the Knights fed off the crowd.

“The start of the game, there was energy, but in the second half, it was overwhelming,” he said.

Gannon responded to the newfound momentum when sophomore linebacker Errick Clark Jr. picked off Slippery Rock quarterback Cody Endres and senior defensive end Cory Borden recovered a fumbled handoff, both in Slippery Rock territory, as the Rock began to crumble.

The Knights parlayed the pair of turnovers into scores, and took a 33-20 lead following the fumble, when Tapscott found Coleman in the back of the end zone for the third time.

With 8 minutes remaining, the Rock made one last push by tallying a touchdown on its next possession. However, the Knights melted the clock thanks to tough running from Jones, who finished with 29 carries for a career-high 128 yards.

Jones, who hasn’t started a game all season, made the most of his increased workload to register his first 100-yard game.

“I never had that role in a game, and to be honest it felt really good having the team look at me as the workhorse,” Jones said.

The Gannon defense finally put the game on ice by intercepting another pass in the game’s waning moments.

In all, the Knights forced five turnovers in the second half.

Senior linebacker Bryan Kelly said a simple halftime adjustment was the reason for Gannon’s second half success.

“Their offense would look to the sideline for the plays, and when they were looking we would switch up our defense,” Kelly said.

The Knights success also resulted in a switch-up of plans.

Gannon will travel to New York, where they will face Long Island University C.W. Post Saturday. The squad was originally scheduled to play at Kutztown, but its opponent was switched when the Golden Bears clinched a spot in the PSAC Championship.

For the Knights, the trip to Long Island will put a cap on an eventful season.

“It’s kind of like a bowl game for us,” Kiernan said.


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