West Chester sinks Gannon

In its first two weeks, the Gannon University football team has shown it has spirit in coming back from multiple-score deficits in both games. But Saturday, it was a host of turnovers that came back to haunt the Knights

Gannon lost three fumbles and was intercepted three times in its 21-17 loss to West Chester University. Fittingly, all of the Rams’ scores came off Gannon turnovers.

It was Brad Rzyczycki’s first loss as Gannon’s coach.

“We came up short, but more than anything now, people realize how good we can be and the kids believe how good they are,” Rzyczycki said. “Sometimes when you turn the ball over five times, you can’t expect to win the game.”

Saturday’s game was the first of three straight road games for the Knights, who will begin Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division play Saturday by taking the short trip south to Slippery Rock University.

Playing in front of nearly 1,500 fans due east Saturday, Gannon scored 17 consecutive points after staking West Chester to an early 14-point advantage. The Knights’ loss comes on the heels of their come-from-behind season-opening win over Lake Erie College a week earlier.

“The coaches said they were very proud of how we battle the whole game,” senior linebacker Jon Petrigac said. “We don’t take the attitude that we’re rebuilding. We think that we have a chance in every game we play.”

Seemingly each time the Knights’ offense turned the ball over, the defense was there to pick them up, often taking it right back. The defense turned away the Rams on fourth down three times and forced a key red zone fumble in the final two minutes to give the offense one more opportunity, before it stalled on three straight incomplete passes.

“It’s kind of difficult when you don’t have a good flow, but to give up the points we did is unacceptable,” said Petrigac, who made seven tackles. “We need to be held accountable because our goal every time out is to force a three-and-out.”

Gannon redshirt quarterback Liam Nadler finished 19-of-35 for 267 yards with three interceptions, one of which West Chester’s John O’Donnell returned 48 yards for a touchdown on Gannon’s first series of the game. O’Donnell’s second pick in the fourth quarter was the impetus behind the Rams’ game-winning drive that concluded with a 29-yard pass from quarterback Mike Mattei to running back Erick Brundidge.

But Saturday’s game also yielded several positives for the offense and Nadler, who once again demonstrated his big-play ability on a pair of long touchdowns. Nadler’s 31-yard touchdown to sophomore Abraham Ocasio in the final seconds of the second quarter made the halftime score 14-10, before his 66-yard strike to sophomore Justin Caliste gave the Knights their first lead late in the third quarter.

The Knights’ running attack also improved from their negative-18-yard performance against Lake Erie. Running backs Jansen Jones and Alex Papson contributed 41 and 33 yards, respectively. Gannon currently ranks last in the PSAC with just 65 rushing yards with a 1-yard per-carry average.

Gannon’s veteran offensive line has been hampered by injury, as starting left tackle Alex Davis has missed both games to an injury, while left guard Kevin Gerlach left Saturday’s game due to an injury.

“What’s been the hardest thing for the line as a unit so far this season has been staying healthy,” right tackle Josh Williams said. “We’ve come a long way since I’ve been here, but with guys getting banged up, we’ve had to shuffle a bit.”

Last season against Slippery Rock, Gannon tallied 136 rushing yards when it shocked the then 14th-ranked Rock 33-27 in Erie in the Knights’ final home and PSAC West game. This year’s game will serve as the opener of Gannon’s Western Division portion of the schedule.

 

JOE CUNEO

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