Story and photo courtesy of Shippensburg Athletics
SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. – The Shippensburg University football team held No. 19 Shepherd scoreless in the second half of Saturday afternoon’s season opener from SU Student Association Field at Seth Grove Stadium and reeled off 24 unanswered points to claim a come-from-behind victory in the 15th annual Great Valley Classic, 38-28 over the Rams. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Rams that dated back to 2004.
Junior Zach Zulli threw for a career-high 392 yards – the third-highest single-game total in SU history – and completed 26-of-35 passes with four touchdowns. Nine different receivers caught at least one pass, with sophomore Trevor Harman reeling in six catches for 105 yards and a pair of scores.
The SU defense forced three turnovers and had eight tackles for loss in the contest but was particularly staunch in the second half. Of Shepherd’s last six drives of Saturday’s game, none went for more than 12 yards despite the Rams running a total of 24 plays in that span. Four of Shepherd’s seven second-half drives resulted in three-and-outs.
Shippensburg (1-0) out-gained the Rams 225-101 in the second half and ultimately wrestled the momentum from the visitors, who scored touchdowns on four of their first six drives of the game to lead 28-14 with six minutes to play in the opening half. The resurgence began in the final minute of the first half, when junior Michael Lloyd connected on a 40-yard field goal to bring the Red Raiders within 11 points of the lead at the intermission.
The first of two crucial specials teams turnovers by the Rams helped Shippensburg continue its comeback early in the third quarter. A jarring hit on a punt by redshirt-freshman Steve Owens resulted in a fumble that gave the Red Raiders the ball on the Shepherd 27-yard line. Five plays later, senior Kevin Herod plunged in from a yard out to put SU within four points.
After a three-and-out by the Rams, the Red Raiders needed just five more plays to take the lead. A 28-yard pass to Herod, a 13-yard throw to Harman and a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior Jacob Baskerville were the highlights of a five-play drive that gave SU a 31-28 lead.
On a day that mostly featured 80-plus degree heat and humidity, it was a sudden torrent of rain that soaked the players through most of the fourth quarter. The two teams exchanged field position through most of the storm until Ram return man DJ Scott muffed a punt with seven minutes to play at his own 45-yard line.
Junior long snapper Shay Ceglar recovered the fumble, and after eating up three more minutes of clock, Harman caught a third-and-3 pass from Zulli for a nine-yard touchdown that ended up cementing the win.
The teams were certainly pass-happy in Saturday’s affair, combining for 621 yards through the air. Both squads combined for 70 rushes but managed just 116 yards on the ground between them – an average of 1.7 yards per carry.
In the third quarter, SU had 10 rushes that netted only one yard, but Zulli was 9-of-11 through the air for 163 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Kush made three big receptions in the third quarter – the first three of his career in fact – including a splendid 45-yard grab near the end of the third quarter. Kush finished with 71 receiving yards.
The defense had a variety of key contributors to its excellent effort in Saturday’s game. In fact, after yielding a 40-yard pass play on the opening play of the second half, the Red Raiders defense allowed just 54 yards on Shepherd’s final 24 plays from scrimmage.
Junior Avery Coleman did a splendid job throughout the contest against Shepherd wide receivers – he was credited with three pass breakups in addition to five tackles. Fellow junior Mike Goode earned a start and led the Red Raiders with eight tackles.
Senior Cody Fleming was a force once again, finishing with six tackles. The second of Fleming’s two tackles for loss was another significant rallying cry, as a perfectly timed rush on the snap had him wallop the ball carrier in the backfield as he received the handoff for a four-yard loss.
The SU pass rush was strong after the first quarter and hampered Shepherd quarterback Bobby Cooper during the second half. Junior Dainen Green had 1.5 sacks in the contest – bring his career total to 12. Junior Mike Schmidt also had a big sack on a fourth-down play that stymied the final Ram drive of the game.
Shippensburg will stay at home next week when it plays host to Slippery Rock, a team that dispatched Seton Hill 52-6 on Thursday night. Saturday’s kickoff will be at 1 p.m. from SU Student Association Field at Seth Grove Stadium.