The first half played out the same. Gannon’s final offensive drive was the same. And the final score was exactly the same. One year after defeating Lake Erie 36-33 on a touchdown with 1:05 remaining, the Gannon football team found the end zone with 1:06 left in regulation to post a come-from-behind victory by the same score Thursday night in the season opener for both squads on the Storm’s home field.
Trailing 33-29, Gannon started the decisive drive on its 25-yard line with 4:28 to play. Liam Nadler (Leipsic, Ohio/Leipsic Local) completed passes of 14 yards to Justin Caliste (Roseville, Calif./Oakmont) and 22 yards to Quad Law (Donora, Pa./Ringgold), moving the ball into Storm territory.
Following a Lake Erie five-yard penalty, Gannon reached the Storm four-yard line after pass connections from Nadler to Caliste and Abraham Ocasio (Bronx, N.Y./Cardinal Hayes) for another eight and 23 yards respectively. Jansen Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Penfield) followed by stretching into the end zone at the end of a run, but the officials ruled his knee down at the one-yard line. Two plays later, Nadler stretched the ball across on a third-and-goal play from one yard out with 1:06 remaining.
Lake Erie had one last chance to win the contest. The Storm assumed control at its 25-yard line with 56 seconds left and no time-outs. Four pass completions by Brendan Gallagher put the ball at midfield, before Lake Erie picked up 27 more yards on two completions that ended with the clock stopping as the Storm wide receiver got out-of-bounds. The final catch moved the home squad to the Gannon 23 yards with two seconds remaining. Lake Erie went for the tie at that point, but Kyle Galbraith’s 40-yard field goal was blocked and fell shy of the goal posts to set off a wild celebration.
The season opener turned into an offensive explosion for Gannon. The offensive unit broke a school record with 639 yards of total offense, eclipsing the old mark of 607 set during a 47-7 victory against Tiffin in 2001. The Golden Knights fell just shy of school records in first downs (31) by one and passing yards (398) by 30. Efficiency was the name of the game as Gannon went 5-of-7 in red zone scoring chances and didn’t turn the ball over in a game for the first time since a 24-20 victory against Slippery Rock on November 6, 2010.
Individually, there were stars galore. Jones erupted for a career-high 218 rushing yards and one touchdown. The performance surpassed his previous career-high by 35 yards and finished as the fifth-highest single-game rushing total in school history. Jones jumped into Gannon’s all-time top 10 in rushing and moved all the way to ninth place with 1,453 career rushing yards.
Nadler was his usual steady self, completing 25-of-42 passes for 398 yards and two scores. In the process, the redshirt sophomore moved past Todd Heigley (1994-97) and into fourth place on Gannon’s all-time passing chart with 3,308 yards despite playing only 12 career games.
Three receivers surpassed the 100-yard benchmark in the same game for the first time in school history. Caliste had a game-high nine catches for 106 yards while Ocasio followed with six receptions for a game-high 148 yards. Caliste posted his fourth career 100-yard game. Ocasio increased her career number to five, leaving him one shy of Lee Castana’s (1995-98) school record of six. Quad Law (Donora, Pa./Ringgold) completed the trio with six catches for 101 yards. Both marks represented career-highs for Law.
Caliste and Ocasio continue to skyrocket up Gannon’s all-time reception chart. Caliste jumped three spots and now ranks sixth with 81 career receptions. Ocasio moved two spots and sits in eighth spot with 77 career catches.
Defensively, Mike Zanders (Charlotte, N.C./Hopewell) and Rico Wright II(Los Angeles, Calif./Mira Costa) led the team with 10 tackles each during their first games in a Golden Knight uniform. Those numbers included seven solo tackles for Zanders and six unassisted stops for Wright II.
Trenton Donald (Uniontown, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) finished with nine tackles. Ke’Shaun Allen (Woodbridge, Va./Gar-Field), Tashawn Sneed(Brooklyn, N.Y./Campus Magnet) and Qwaheem Marshall (Rochester, N.Y./Joseph C. Wilson Magnet) ended with eight stops each. Marshall and Chris Dollard (Wilmington, Del./Alexis I. DuPont) both recorded their first career sack during opening night festivities.
The first half was a shoot-out as the two non-conference rivals exchanged points until Gannon produced consecutive scoring drives to assume a 20-14 lead with 3:08 left in the first half. Lake Erie responded with 31 ticks left on the clock, finding the end zone on a three-yard run. But a blocked extra point kept the teams deadlocked at 20 heading into the break.
Gannon seemed to take the momentum back early in the fourth quarter. A high snap by the Lake Erie center deep in Storm territory resulted in a safety when the ball bounced out of the end zone with 12 minutes remaining. The Golden Knights then received great field position when Caliste returned the ensuing punt 27 yards to the Lake Erie 34-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Nadler found Ocasio for 28 yards. Two plays later, Nadler fired a five-yard scoring pass through traffic and Jesstin Hamm (Harwood, Md./DeMatha Catholic) made a great catch in the back of the end zone to put Gannon in front 29-26 at the 10:48 mark.
However, the lead didn’t stick. After the team exchanged scoreless drives, Lake Erie assumed possession at its 20-yard line with 5:11 to play. Aaron Lindgren started the drive with a nine-yard rush, before Anthony Bilal ripped off a 71-yard touchdown run down the right side to give the home squad a 33-29 advantage with 4:37 to play.
Lake Erie held advantages in total offense (650-639), first downs (33-31) and rushing yards (374-241). Gannon returned the favor in passing yards (398-276) and time of possession (31:30-28:30).
Gannon improved to 1-0 while retaining possession of the Ship’s Wheel, the trophy given annually to the winner of the Gannon-Lake Erie contest. The Golden Knights improved to 5-1 all-time against the Storm who dropped to 0-1 this season. Head coach Brad Rzyczycki‘s club returns to action Saturday, September 14 against West Chester at Gannon University Field. The home opener is scheduled for 12 noon.