ONEONTA, N.Y. – The No. 24 Salisbury University football team remained perfect in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference, claiming a 17-0 victory at Hartwick College on Saturday afternoon.
The defensive effort is the second shutout this year, marking just the fourth time in program history, and first since 1996, that the team has recorded two shutouts in a season.
The Hawks took the opening kickoff, but the Salisbury defense stood strong over the first three drives, forcing a pair of punts, and seeing senior James Hall come up with an interception, giving up just two yards in that time.
The Salisbury offense was able to move the ball, but a pair of fumbles gave Hartwick (4-3, 1-3 Empire 8) the first good scoring chance of the day. The Hawks moved the ball 33 yards on 11 plays down near the Salisbury end zone, but junior Nick Ochoa forced a fumble at the 4-yard line, which was recovered by senior Matt Banta.
The Sea Gulls (5-2, 4-0 Empire 8) moved the ball into Hartwick territory, down to the Hawk 37-yard line before the drive stalled out. Junior punter Kyle Hamby, who entered the day ranked second in the nation punting average, dropped a kick down to the 9-yard line.
The Hawks went three-and-out on their next drive, keyed by Banta's 5-yard sack of Hartwick quarterback John Garcia and defensive lineman Jeremy Keith's tackle in the backfield, for a loss of three yards.
Salisbury would get on the board just before halftime. After seeing junior quarterback Joey Jones brought down for sack on second-and-10 late in the second quarter, sophomore Jerome Johnson broke a 50-yard run, down to the Hartwick 22-yard line. Jones then found junior Isaiah Taylor on a 11-yard pass play and, two plays later, freshman Zak Osborne booted a 22-yard field goal to give Salisbury the 3-0 lead at the half.
The Salisbury defense limited the Hawks to just 65 yards in the first half, while Hartwick hurt itself with six penalties, costing the Hawks 59 yards.
The Salisbury defense picked up where it left off on the first drive of the second half, as sophomore Nick Anzallo picked off Garcia's attempt, returning it 25 yards out near midfield.
The Sea Gulls took advantage of the chance, driving 56 yards over nine plays, including a 13-yard rush by junior Desmond Sivels and a 14-yard run by junior super back Tyler West, before Jones ran in from 4 yards out to cushion the Salisbury lead, 10-0.
An Andre Carter interception gave the Gulls the chance to extend their lead, when the Salisbury senior picked of Garcia at the Hartwick 12-yard line. Three runs by sophomore quarterback John Dunbar put the Gulls in the end zone, his scoring run came from 12 yards, to push the lead to 17-0.
Carter has inched closer to the program record in career interceptions, now with 15, just three behind career leader Byron Westbrook (2003-06).
Salisbury would force two fourth quarter turnovers – a fumble by Garcia forced by sophomore Rahsaan Ellis, recovered by sophomore David Handy, and Anzallo's second pick of the game – which sealed the win with just 3:13 left on the clock.
The Sea Gull defense surrendered a season-low 191 yards, the fewest given up since limiting the Hawks to 142 yards last season at Sea Gull Stadium.
Banta led the way defensively, with nine tackles, five solo, and 1.5 sacks. He had 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered the one fumble. Along with Handy's fumble recovery, he forced another and recorded 2.5 sacks.
The six takeaways for the Sea Gulls on the day are the most since grabbing seven against Hartwick during the 2011 season, and it marks the sixth-consecutive game that the Salisbury defense has had at least two interceptions.
Salisbury finished with 296 yards of total offense, led by junior J.D. Hook's 63 rushing yards, while Sivels finished with 58. Jones completed 6-of-12 passes for 60 yards.
Salisbury will play its final regular-season road game next Saturday, Nov. 2, at Alfred University. That game is slated to kickoff at 12 p.m.