UTICA, N.Y. – The Salisbury University football team opened Empire 8 Athletic Conference play with a resounding 34-0 win Saturday afternoon at Utica College.
The Salisbury defense stole the show, pitching its first shutout since a 69-0 win against Alfred University on Oct. 15, 2011 and the program's seventh shutout in the past 16 seasons. Utica was limited to 250 yards of total offense in the game.
Salisbury (2-2, 1-0 Empire 8) took the game's opening kickoff and saw Johnson return the kick 48 yards to the Utica 46-yard line and it didn't take long for the Sea Gulls to strike. It took just seven plays before Johnson ran in from 19 yards out on fourth-and-two. The point-after try failed, but Salisbury grabbed the 6-0 lead, which would be good enough for the Sea Gull defense.
The Pioneers (2-2, 0-1 Empire 8) went three-and-out on their first possession of the day. It would be the first of five three-and-out possessions in the game for Utica, with three others ending in turnovers.
Utica's longest drive in the first quarter covered just 12 yards, but Salisbury would punt three times in the first quarter and the six-point lead held until the Sea Gulls pulled away with 21 points in the second quarter.
Jones led Salisbury on scoring drives of 53, 67 and 66 yards in the second quarter. The first score of the quarter culminated in a 30-yard strike from Jones to senior wide receiver Michael Copenhaver for a 13-0 lead.
After a Salisbury defensive stand, which featured two tackles by senior linebacker Matt Banta, the Sea Gull offense went back to work, this time needing seven plays, all runs, for their longest drive of the day, covering 67 yards. The drive saw Johnson with a rush of 21 yards and senior Lonnie Liggins with a carry of 18 before Jones pounded the ball in from 4 yards out, pushing the Salisbury lead to 20-0.
The Pioneers saw their best chance to score in the first half on their next drive, pushing to the Salisbury 27-yard line, but sophomore linebacker James Hall would block a 45-yard field goal attempt and return the kick to the Utica 25-yard line. Salisbury capitalized as Jones would connect with junior Isaiah Taylor on the next play for a 25-yard passing touchdown getting the SU lead to 27-0 at the break. It marks the first game of Jones' career where he has passed for two touchdowns.
Utica opted for an aerial assault against Salisbury, as quarterback Connor Butkiewicz put up 47 pass attempts in the game, completing 30 tries. Despite the 30 completions, the Sea Gull defense limited the deep ball, allowing just 179 passing yards and only four completions of 10 yards or more.
Salisbury freshman defensive back Tyler Campbell picked off a Butkiewicz pass attempt to close out the second quarter, and the trend continued in the second half.
Junior Steven Gamble and sophomore Nick Batastini each grabbed interceptions in Salisbury territory in the fourth quarter to help preserve the shutout. The picks for Campbell, Gamble and Batastini were the first of each player's career.
Saturday's game marked the first time this season that Utica's offense had been held below 200 yards passing. Gamble and senior defensive back Calvin Ford each had seven tackles to lead the Salisbury defense.
Salisbury's 364 rushing yards were the team's most this season by more than 100 yards. The Sea Gulls ran for 7.1 yards per carry, as Johnson netted his 139 yards on just 11 carries (12.6 per carry).
The Sea Gulls return home on Saturday, Oct. 12 for Homecoming, when they take on Buffalo State College at Sea Gull Stadium. That game is slated to begin at 1 p.m.