Knights slip while climbing Rock

It took the Gannon University football team 65 years to start 4-0, but the Knights will have to wait at least one more to start 5-0.

Gannon’s bid to stay undefeated and take control of the PSAC Western Division fell short Saturday as Slippery Rock overcame a 20-17 halftime deficit to give the Knights their first loss of the season, 31-28, at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium

Gannon (4-1,3-1 PSAC) led 20-17 early in the third quarter and had Adam Schaeffer punting deep in his own territory when Sam Funk blocked the punt for The Rock.

Nick Davis scooped up the ball at the Gannon 6-yard line and scored to give Slippery Rock a 24-20 lead. The Rock (5-0, 4-0 PSAC) would add to their lead after another Gannon miscue, this time coming in the form of a fumble at the Slippery Rock 47-yard line.

The Rock would take full advantage of the turnover, mounting an eight-play drive resulting in Shamar Greene’s 1-yard touchdown run with a little more than 6 minutes to play in the third quarter.

Redshirt junior quarterback Liam Nadler described the second-half turnovers as uncharacteristic mental mistakes.

“It wasn’t anything they did,” Nadler said of the Slippery Rock defense. “The mistakes we made lost us the game.”

Gannon would manage to cut the deficit to three at 31-28 with 5:23 remaining in the game after Nadler connected with Jesstin Hamm for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

However, Gannon’s fourth-quarter comeback would fall short after failing to convert a first down after three incomplete passes late in the final quarter.

Nadler continued a standout year with season highs in completions (30), attempts (50) and passing yards (370).

Nadler got things going for the Knights early, with a 51-yard run on the second play of the game. Nadler would cap off the 12-play, 85-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Hamm. A missed extra point would leave the score 6-0.

The Rock cut Gannon’s lead in half on their next possession with a 26-yard field goal. Gannon’s ensuing possession would result in Brock Jones’ 27-yard touchdown run, giving the Knights their largest lead at 13-3 late in the first quarter.

The Rock would answer with two touchdowns on back-to-back second-quarter drives to move in front 17-13, but Gannon would reclaim the lead before the intermission on Jones’ 24-yard touchdown run.

Gannon coach Brad Rzyczycki said that going into halftime the coaching staff looked at what the team was handling well and what they weren’t.

He said the team is prepared during the course of the week, not during a halftime speech.

“It was two evenly matched teams,” Rzyczycki said. “We had to keep doing what we were doing at that point of the game.”

Gannon won almost every statistical category during the loss. The Knights would hold advantages in total yards (524-380), first downs (22-16), passing yards (370-219) and time of possession (35:28-24:32).

Gannon also led in another category — penalties. Thirteen penalties resulted in 105 lost yards for the Knights.

Although Rzyczycki said it is valuable when you are able to play good teams on the road win or lose, mental mistakes are something that need to be avoided.

“You can’t have mental breakdowns,” Rzyczycki said. “You can’t afford those on the road.”

Nadler said that leading the team after this loss and into a rivalry game with Mercyhurst Saturday won’t be that difficult because of how hungry everyone is to get back on the practice field and get a win.

“You need team leaders and with this group of guys it’s easy to do,” Nadler said.

Saturday’s Homecoming kickoff against city rival Mercyhurst is slated for noon at Gannon University Field. The Lakers enter the game with an overall record of 1-4 and 1-3 in the PSAC.

DOMINIC SANSONE

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