AU comeback falls just short as Saxons lose to Salisbury, 24-21
SALISBURY, MD — A fourth-quarter comeback came up just short as the Alfred University football team lost to host Salisbury, 24-21, Saturday afternoon in a battle of nationally-ranked Empire 8 Conference leaders.
Alfred trailed 24-7 midway through the fourth quarter before scoring touchdowns off consecutive Salisbury turnovers to pull within a field goal with 5:25 remaining. But the host Sea Gulls held onto the ball down the stretch, tallying a pair of first downs late before running out the clock. With the loss, Alfred – which came in ranked 21st in the nation – falls to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the Empire 8. Salisbury, the seventh-ranked team in Division III, improves to 5-1 and takes over sole possession of first place in the conference with a 4-0 league mark.
The game lived up to its billing as a battle of defenses bent on stopping the run. Alfred came in averaging 220 yards per game rushing (second in the Empire 8 and 36th the country), while Salisbury was averaging 284 yards per game on the ground (tops in the conference and 11th in the nation). It was defense that won the day, however, as Salisbury and Alfred were limited to 273 and 260 yards of offense, respectively, including 187 on the ground for the host Sea Gulls and 110 for the Saxons.
Alfred led the turnover battle, forcing three Salisbury fumbles and scoring touchdowns off all three. Alfred turned the ball over only twice, but one miscue was costly, as the Sea Gull defense converted a first-quarter fumble into a score to take a 14-point lead.
Salisbury opened the scoring on its opening drive, marching 70 yards in nine plays and capping the drive with a touchdown 4:08 into the opening frame. After the teams exchanged punts, the Saxons fumbled the ball away on their second drive of the game, and Salisbury’s Andre Carter returned the ball 38 yards for the score to give his team a 14-0 lead with 2:26 left in the first.
Alfred cut the lead in half with 3:15 left in the opening half, when junior quarterback Zach Sopak (Falconer, NY/Southwestern) connected with senior tight end Adam Schutz (Geneva, NY/Geneva) on a six-yard TD pass to cap a nine-play, 45-yard drive that started when Alfred forced a Salisbury fumble near midfield. Salisbury answered on its ensuing drive, going 51 yards in six plays before a 37-yard Eric Hart field goal gave the hosts a 17-7 lead going into intermission.
After a scoreless third, Salisbury pushed its lead to 17 points, at 24-7, on a touchdown 2:31 into the fourth. AU punted on its first drive of the fourth and Salisbury looked to run some clock, but Sea Gull quarterback Dan Griffin fumbled at his own 35-yard line and five plays later, AU junior tailback Chuck Beckwith (Victor, NY/Victor) scored from four yards out and Salisbury led, 24-14. After the ensuing kickoff, Salisbury ran two plays before Griffin again fumbled, this time at the Sea Gull 48. Seven plays later, Beckwith scored on a two-yard run on fourth down to make it 24-21.
The Saxons almost got the ball back on the Sea Gulls’ next drive, but a Griffin fumble was recovered by a teammate. Later in the drive, Salisbury converted on third-and-4 and third-and-2 before running out the clock.
Beckwith finished with 80 yards on 19 carries with two TDs and Sopak was 16-of-27 for 150 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Schutz caught a game-high five passes for 31 yards and a score, while freshman wide receiver Maleke Fuentes (Olean, NY/Olean) and junior wideout Josh Phillips (Syracuse, NY/West Genesee) each caught four passes for 39 yards.
Joe Benedetti ran for 81 yards and Griffin for 51 to lead the Salisbury rushing attack, while. Isaiah Taylor ran for two scores. Griffin completed two passes for 86 yards, with one going for 52 yards to wideout Juma Richards.
Senior nose tackle Mike Raplee (Dundee, NY/Dundee) had 10 tackles, including one for loss and a sack, to lead the AU defense. Senior free safety Jon Jackson (East Amherst, NY/Bishop Timon) and junior linebacker D.J. Welch (Avon, NY/Avon) each had eight tackles. Senior end Chris Steeves (Rochester, NY/Gates-Chili) had seven tackles (one sack), and sophomore linebacker J.R. Britton (Rochester, NY/Greece Arcadia) had four tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Defensive back Greg Stanton had a game-high 12 tackles and an interception for Salisbury and linebacker Steve Gamble had nine tackles (three for loss; 1 ½ sacks).
Alfred will look to bounce back next weekend when the Saxons travel to Utica College for a 2 p.m. Empire 8 contest.
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