PHILADELPHIA – The Salisbury University football team closed the season with an exclamation point, rolling to a 52-20 victory against Carnegie Melon University in the ECAC Legacy Bowl at Franklin Field on Sunday afternoon.
The Sea Gulls (8-3) dominated on both sides of the ball, rushing for a season-high 531 yards and completing 4-of-6 passes for 27 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Senior super back Connor Canonico led the offensive charge in his final collegiate game, carrying the ball 28 times for 203 yards and a touchdown to be named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Defensively, Salisbury held the nation's third-leading rusher Sam Benger to just 90 yards. Benger entered the game rushing for 158.1 yards per game, and Sunday marked just the third time in the past two seasons that he's been held under 100 yards.
After the Tartans took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards for a Benger score over 13 plays, the Sea Gulls came back with a quick drive to tie the game. Following a 40-yard kickoff return from Sean Rowland and a short run by Canonico, junior quarterback Brandon Lewis broke down the left sideline for a 49-yard scoring rush and it was all Salisbury from there.
The Lewis run, the first of three touchdown runs on the day for him, was the first of six scoring drives on the next seven possessions for Salisbury.
The defense held Carnegie Mellon to a pair of short drives before the scoring run kept going for the Sea Gulls. Salisbury drove 85 yards into early in the second quarter and senior Aarron Moore got to the end zone from 24 yards out to give Salisbury the lead, 14-7.
The Tartans (7-4) threatened, pushing the ball inside the red zone, but the Salisbury defense would not allow the score, as Carnegie Mellon quarterback Alex Cline lofted a ball to the end zone, which freshman Andre Boone elevated for, getting the interception to stop the threat.
Salisbury held a decisive edge in time of possession in the game, going 11-for-14 on third-down conversions, and holding the ball for more than 35 minutes. The next drive saw three third-down conversions as the first 15 plays of the drive were runs before Lewis faked a handoff and found Ryan Kolb for a 1-yard touchdown pass.
A 23-yard Alex Potocko field goal just before the end of the second quarter gave Salisbury a 24-7 lead at halftime.
The lead grew in the third quarter with Lewis breaking off two more touchdown runs before leaving the contest. He finished with 127 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go with the touchdown pass.
Benger got into the end zone two more times for the Tartans, while Salisbury came up with one more passing touchdown, from Vincent Fischetti to Moore from 13 yards out, on a diving grab.
Salisbury took away two more Tartan passes in the game with Zachary Wolfrey picking off a tipped pass and returning it 22 yards while freshman Patrick Bernardo grabbed a Carnegie Mellon two-point conversion pass attempt.
The victory for Salisbury is the program's sixth ECAC bowl title in eight appearances, and the 8-3 record marks the seventh season in a row with at least seven wins.