NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The Salisbury University football team jumped out to an early lead in its season-opening game at Christopher Newport University on Saturday night at POMOCO Stadium and held off the Captains to claim the 41-32 win.
Salisbury put up 363 yards of total offense and scored more points against the CNU defense than any team since the University of Mount Union put up 72 against the Captains in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2012.
The Sea Gulls were led offensively by junior quarterback John Dunbar, who rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns, and sophomore slot Aarron Moore, who went for 104 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
Salisbury won the coin toss and opted to put its offense on the field first, putting pressure on the Christopher Newport defense, which ranked seventh nationally in 2013 allowing just 12.7 points per game. The move worked as the Sea Gulls (1-0) forced their way down the field, covering 82 yards on 10 plays for the opening score.
The Sea Gulls ran into trouble with four penalties on the drive, but were able to overcome the miscues with four first downs and a pair of big runs from sophomore Ryan Kolb to keep the drive moving.
Moore, on his fourth carry of the drive, took a pitch to the left side, cut in toward the line and hurdled a defender just shy of the goal line for the first score of the season.
The Sea Gull defense would get a quick three-and-out and Kolb would make the Captains (0-1) pay. Mason Studer's high punt was fielded by Kolb at the 19-yard line. Kolb went straight up the middle, breaking one tackle near the 30-yard line, then spun away from two more would-be tacklers and raced down the right sideline for an 81-yard punt return for the touchdown.
CNU would score to cut the lead to 14-7 with just over three minutes to play in the first, but Salisbury would get the points right back as special teams set up the Gulls in good field position. Sophomore Arlando Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards to near midfield. It took just six plays to get into the end zone, on a 1-yard plunge by Dunbar.
The touchdown, which put the Sea Gulls up 21-7, was the final score for Salisbury in the opening half.
The Captains found the end zone twice in the second quarter, to cut the lead to 21-20, and their point-after try, with no time on the clock, would have tied the game, but a bad snap kept the kick from being successful. Three extra-point miscues would prove to be costly for the Captains on the night.
After the Salisbury defense stifled the Captains on their opening drive of the second half, the Sea Gull offense marched 87 yards on 11 plays to extend the lead. Moore again got in, this time from 4 yards and the point after made it 28-20.
Salisbury got the majority of its rushing yards on the outside, as Kolb also added 74 rushing yards. The Captains collapsed on the interior line, but when Dunbar got to the outside and worked with his pitch man, the Sea Gull offense clicked.
The Christopher Newport offense had a chance to tie again, this time after quarterback Marcus Morrast plunged in from a yard out with 2:26 left in the third. The Captains went for the two-point conversion, but Morrast's pass, as he rolled out of the pocket, was knocked to the ground by linebacker James Hall, allowing Salisbury to hold on to the 28-26 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
The Sea Gulls would again stretch the lead, with Dunbar scoring from 15 yards out, pushing the lead back to two possessions, 35-26.
With 10 minutes left in the game, the Captains needed to move quickly, and the Salisbury defense would help to get the Gulls a little more breathing room. On a third-and-10 play from his own 11-yard line, Morrast dropped back to throw and looked up to see junior linebacker Austin Howard coming untouched off his left side, Morrast lofted the ball up into the secondary as he was hit and senior Drew Allebach came up with the interception to give the Gulls late control.
It took just eight plays for Salisbury to get in the end zone from the CNU 31-yard line, pushing the lead to 41-26 with just four minutes to play.
The Captains would score the game's final points at the end of a 12-play, 75-yard drive on a Morrast 1-yard dive, but Studer's point-after try was tipped at the line of scrimmage and missed, keeping the margin at nine points, 41-32, with a minute to play. Salisbury recovered the onside kick and with two kneel downs got in the win column for the first time in 2014.
Salisbury will look to pick up its second win next week, hosting No. 5 Wesley College on Saturday, September 13 at Sea Gull Stadium. The game will be the home opener for the Sea Gulls; kickoff is set for 6 p.m.