DOVER, Del. – With 2:23 left in the game, sophomore kicker Alex Potocko drove home a 36-yard field goal that proved to be the difference, as the Salisbury University football team handed No. 3 Wesley College its first loss of the season 38-35, marking the first time since October 30, 2004 that the Sea Gulls took down the Wolverines. The Sea Gulls traveled to Dover, Delaware for the win, grabbing their sixth New Jersey Athletic Conference win on the year.
The Salisbury and Wesley offenses matched each other blow-for-blow through the entire game, until the teams were tied 35-35 to start the fourth quarter. The Sea Gull defense took over in the final quarter, forcing two-straight Wolverine punts, with the second setting up Salisbury on its own 44-yard line.
Three-straight rushes up the middle by junior Ryan Jones move the Sea Gulls 18 yards to the Wesley 37, before senior Jerome Johnson took a pitch off the right side for 12 yards to the 25. Three-yard runs from junior Connor Canonico and sophomore Brady Curley got the Gulls to the 19, and from there, Potocko came on to nail the game-winning kick from the left hash.
Wesley took over with a chance to do what it had done all game and answer the Salisbury offense one more time, but the Sea Gull defense had one final stop on its mind. Joe Callahan completed a 28-yard pass to James Okike to get to the Wesley 39, but Salisbury stood strong from there. The Gulls forced two incomplete passes, before Callahan rushed for five yards to bring up fourth-and-5, but Salisbury broke through on the down to pressure Callahan into another incompletion to secure the win.
The game featured explosive offenses from the beginning, and in a first half full of big plays, Curley got things started with a 40-yard return, as Salisbury received the opening kickoff. Curley had a huge day for Salisbury, leading the team with 101 rushing yards and 118 kick-return yards. He added a 25-yard catch to give him 244 all-purpose yards in the contest.
He set up the Gulls at the SU 45-yard line, but the Wesley defense forced a three-and-out.
Sophomore Timothy Steindl came on to punt and booted a great directional kick that went 47 yards and pinned the Wolverines inside their own 10-yard line at the 7. Wesley drove to the Salisbury 45, but the Sea Gull defense stood strong and forced a turnover on downs to give the offense another start in good field position.
The Sea Gulls took advantage with a 5-play, 55-yard drive to take the game’s first lead. Curley, who had a huge first half with 197 all-purpose yards, caught a 25-yard pass from Jones on the first play to get into Wesley territory.
The Wolverines forced a fourth down, but the Salisbury offense stayed on the field. The Gulls not only converted the fourth, but scored on a 21-yard run by Johnson. After the Potocko extra point, Salisbury led 7-0 with 6:52 left in the first quarter.
Wesley responded on its next drive, as Joe Callahan found Bryce Shade on a 55-yard catch and run on the fifth play of the series to tie the score, 7-7, which would hold until the second quarter.
Both defenses forced a turnover before the end of the first quarter, as senior Nick Batastini forced and recovered a fumble for Salisbury. Wesley responded by grabbing an interception on the Gulls’ next drive, but they could not capitalize, missing a field goal.
With the score still tied, the Gulls were set up at their own 20 after the miss, needing only eight plays to go 80 yards and retake the lead.
Johnson and Curley continued to move the Salisbury offense, combining for 58 yards on four carries, while Johnson also pulled in an 11-yard catch.
Curley took the pitch off the left side from Jones on the sixth play, scampering 38 yards down the sideline to the Wesley 7. From there, Canonico took two handoffs, scoring on a 3-yard run up the middle for the 14-7 lead with 9:22 left in the first half and beginning a stretch of four-straight scoring drives between the teams.
After Wesley tied the game again, 14-14, on a 45-yard pass, Jones opened Salisbury’s ensuing drive with a 51-yard pass to Johnson up the left seam to the Wolverines’ 31. Canonico then rushed for 5 yards, followed by an 11-yard keeper by Jones to get into the red zone. Three- and 2-yard rushes from Curley and Jones, respectively, set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior Isaiah Taylor on a slant from the left side.
The Wolverines again responded right away, this time with a 53-yard run from Jamar Baynard to tie the score, 21-21, which would hold into halftime.
At the break, Curley led the Gulls with 80 rushing yards, while adding 92 kick-return yards.
The offensive explosiveness continued into the third quarter, as both teams found the end zone on their first two drives of the second half.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, Wesley drove 93 yards in 12 plays to take its first lead. Callahan found Kyle George on a 16-yard pass to take the 28-21 advantage.
It was Salisbury’s turn to answer, and the Sea Gulls did, as Johnson began an 11-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard run off a pitch to the right side. Curley moved the Gulls into Wesley territory with a 13-yard run down the left side. After a Wesley holding penalty, Johnson ran another 9 yards, before Jones found sophomore Josh McClain down the right seam on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Wesley retook the lead on its next series, capped by a 51-yard catch by Baynard, but Salisbury again had the response to tie the score.
Johnson took the pitch off the right side to start the drive with a 14-yard gain, before Canonico ran three times for 44 yards to get to the Welsey 4-yard line. From there, Curley ran in on a toss to the left to make the score 35-35, before the fourth-quarter heroics from Potocko and the SU defense.
The defense was led by junior Shane Marvel’s 10 tackles, while senior James Hall tallied a sack. Senior Zack Seifert and junior Tyler Paradysz also combined for a sack in the game, while Batastini and senior Mike Hale both forced fumbles.
Johnson finished the game with 86 rushing yards and 71 receiving yards, and Canonico added 77 rushing yards.
The Sea Gulls will close out the regular season on Saturday, November 14 in NJAC action against Frostburg State University at Sea Gull Stadium. The teams meet for their annual battle for the Regent’s Cup, but with today’s win, Salisbury is also playing for the NJAC championship and automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament. The start time for the game is to be determined. Log on to www.suseagulls.com for more information, as it becomes available.