SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University football team saw its title defense of the Empire 8 Athletic Conference championship come to an end with a 24-23 overtime loss to Ithaca College on Saturday at Sea Gull Stadium.
The win for the Bombers (8-1, 6-1 Empire 8) clinches at least a share of the title and locks up the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Football Tournament, something the Sea Gulls have claimed during their first two seasons in the Empire 8.
Salisbury (5-4, 4-2 Empire 8) got on the board first, taking the opening kickoff and moving the ball 73 yards over 13 plays and using more than eight minutes off the clock before freshman kicker Zak Osborne fired a 25-yard field goal through for a 3-0 lead.
Senior running back Nick Aloi highlighted the drive with six carries during the drive, including 20- and 12-yard rushes. Aloi accounted for 40 yards on the drive before it stalled out at the Ithaca 8-yard line.
The teams traded short drives with both defenses standing strong. Salisbury got pass break-ups from senior Andre Carter and Michael Landry and a tackle for a loss by Zachary Seifert sending the game to the second quarter, with Salisbury leading 3-0.
After the Salisbury defense forced Ithaca's second three-and-out of the second quarter, the Sea Gulls were put in prime position after the Bombers interfered with Salisbury's attempt to call for a fair catch on the punt. The 15-yard penalty set up the Gulls at the Ithaca 29-yard line and junior quarterback Joey Jones took advantage of the situation. Jones lofted a pass on the first play to the left side of the end zone where junior Isaiah Taylor pulled down the ball for a 10-0 Salisbury lead.
The Bombers responded on their next two drives, pushing to the Sea Gull 12-yard line, before a Garrett Nicholson field goal made it 10-3, and after a blocking a punt, the Bombers got in the end zone from 10 yards out to tie the game, 10-10.
Ithaca took its first lead of the game, early in the third quarter, driving 62 yards on nine plays to open the second half. Quarterback Tom Dempsey found Joel Lynch for the score from 11 yards for the 17-10 lead.
The Sea Gulls would be forced to punt on their next possession, but got the ball back quickly when freshman Shane Marvel knocked the ball from the hands of Ithaca running back Evan Skea. Junior Nick Ochoa pounced on the ball, giving Salisbury control at the Ithaca 27-yard line.
The fumble recovery was part of a dominant defensive day for Ochoa, who finished with six tackles, two sacks, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry.
Salisbury got into the end zone in just three plays, all rushes by sophomore quarterback John Dunbar, who scampered around the left side and in from 21 yards out, tying the game at 17-17.
Salisbury had the final extended offensive possession of regulation, moving the ball 66 yards on 19 plays, taking nearly 10 minutes on the clock. There was less than a minute remaining when a 28-yard field goal try for the Sea Gulls missed, wide left.
In the overtime period, the Bombers covered the 25 yards in five plays with Dempsey finding Nicholson on the right side of the end zone from 9 yards out.
Salisbury would find itself in trouble, facing fourth-and seven, from the Ithaca 22-yard line. But the drive was extended when Taylor made a diving grab on the left side on a low pass from Dunbar. The Salisbury quarterback ran to the left side three plays later, from 4 yards out, diving for the goal line to cut the deficit to one point, but Ithaca claimed the win when Salisbury's point-after try failed.
Salisbury outgained the Bombers, 296-266, and held an edge in time of possession. Dunbar and Aloi each ran for 84 yards in the game, while Marvel finished with 10 tackles to pace the SU defense.
Dempsey completed 15-of-25 passes in the game and Skea ran for 102 yards. Will Carter led all players with 18 tackles, seven of which were solo, in the contest.
The Sea Gulls will close out the regular season next Saturday, hosting Frostburg State University in the 15th annual Regents Cup game. Salisbury has won the last nine meetings against the Bobcats and will look for 10 straight. The start time for that contest is to be announced, and will be finalized on Monday, Nov. 11. Check www.suseagulls.com for information, as it becomes available.