SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University football team prevailed in a showdown of the final two conference unbeatens within the Empire 8 Athletic Conference, holding off St. John Fisher College for a 42-35 victory on Saturday afternoon at Sea Gull Stadium.
Salisbury (4-2, 3-0 Empire 8) posted season highs in rushing yards, total yards, touchdown rushes and – most importantly – points, needing all 42 to come away with the victory, remaining in position at the top of the Empire 8 standings.
Junior quarterback Joey Jones paced the Salisbury offense, rushing for 78 yards, on a career-high 28 carries and a career-best four rushing touchdowns while junior slot Desmond Sivels ran for a game-best 89 yards. The Salisbury defense was led by sophomore linebacker Nick Anzallo's eight tackles, while senior Andre Carter took second place on the all-time Salisbury interception list with the 14th of his career.
Salisbury took the opening kickoff and drove into Fisher territory, with a 42-yard run by sophomore slot Jerome Johnson, but a Sea Gull fumble would end the drive.
The teams would trade punts before the Sea Gulls got on the board. Sivels started the drive with a 24-yard carry, and four plays later Jones plunged in from a yard out to give Salisbury a 7-0 lead following freshman Zak Osborne's point after.
But the Cardinals (5-1, 2-1 Empire 8) would find their way into the end zone on their next drive, with three passes over a four-play drive, capped by a 51-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Fenti to Kevin Francis to tie the game at 7-7.
St. John Fisher would take the lead on two different occasions in the second quarter, but never possessed the ball with the lead as Salisbury answered each Cardinal scoring drive with one of its own.
After a 27-yard Fenti touchdown pass to Francis, with 10:25 left in the second quarter, the Sea Gulls marched 72 yards on just six plays, highlighted by a 44-yard run by senior Lonnie Liggins on a pitch to the right side. Liggins was pulled down at the 2-yard line and two plays later Liggins was able to get in, with a great second effort, tying the game at 14-14.
Liggins was one of five Sea Gulls to go for more than 60 yards, rushing for 62, as Salisbury finished the day with 451 rushing yards.
Fisher came up with another passing touchdown to retake the lead, 21-14, with 5:23 left in the half, but Salisbury was able to engineer the longest drive of the game. After a penalty on the kickoff left the Sea Gulls deep in their own territory, Salisbury ran 13 plays, covering 91 yards to reach the end zone with 32 seconds left in the half. Salisbury plugged away on the drive, with no play going for more than 13 yards before Jones found pay dirt on a 2-yard run to tie the game at halftime.
Carter came up with his pick of Fenti on the Cardinals' first drive of the second half. Carter stepped in front of Francis to give the Gulls the ball at the St. John Fisher 21-yard line.
Five rushes later, Jones was in the end zone again, this time from 1 yard out, giving the Gulls a 28-21 lead. Salisbury would not trail the rest of the way.
The lead grew to two scores for the first time all day when Brandon Norwood took a pitch to the left, and found a seam to cut back to the right side of the field. Mike Guinta looked to have an angle on Norwood, but the Salisbury junior got the final burst to reach the end zone for an 82-yard run and a 35-21 lead.
Fisher cut the lead to 35-28, but Salisbury would recover the onside kick attempt with 3:50 showing on the clock. The Gulls ate up nearly two and a half minutes, moving 44 yards, including a fourth-and-six conversion at the St. John Fisher 23-yard line. Two plays later, Jones pushed in from 15 yards out to get the lead back to 14 points.
The Cardinals had one more score in them, getting the lead back to 42-35, but Carter would recover the final onside kick try and the Gulls remained perfect in Empire 8 play.
Salisbury gets back into Empire 8 action next Saturday, October 26, traveling to Hartwick College; that game kicks off at 2 p.m.