SALISBURY, Md. – On fourth and 15 with only 58 seconds remaining and the Salisbury University football team's NCAA tournament hopes seemingly slipping away, senior wide receiver Isaiah Taylor hauled in a one-handed, 51-yard catch down the left side from junior quarterback Ryan Jones to keep the Sea Gulls' season alive. Three plays later, Jones and Taylor linked up again on a 10-yard pass, as Jones lofted a perfectly-placed, back-shoulder throw into the left side of the end zone, and Taylor made the catch with a Frostburg defensive back draped over his back, lifting the Sea Gulls to a 28-27 victory over Frostburg State University at Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, Salisbury captures the Regents Cup for the 12th-straight season and earns the New Jersey Athletic Conference co-championship in the Gulls' first season in the NJAC. The Sea Gulls earned the conference's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III tournament with the victory, as well.
The Sea Gulls overcame a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter for the victory, marking the largest comeback in program history since the 1984 season, when the Sea Gulls were down 33-0 to Randolph-Macon College, before winning 34-33. It also ties the largest second-half comeback from the same game, when the Gulls trailed Randolph-Macon 33-13 at halftime.
Frostburg scored with 2:25 left in the third quarter to go up 27-7, but Salisbury immediately responded on its next drive, beginning a stretch of three-straight scoring drives for the Sea Gulls.
Starting with 2:18 left in the third frame, Jones rushed for four yards to start the series, before a Bobcats' penalty set the Sea Gulls up on their 44-yard line.
A 4-yard run by junior Connor Canonico, followed by an 8-yard run from senior Jerome Johnson, got the team to the Frostburg 46 to start the fourth quarter. Jones found Taylor for a 10-yard gain, before taking the ball himself on a 13-yard run, setting up a 23-yard touchdown pass to junior Aarron Moore down the right seam to begin the comeback.
The Salisbury defense clamped down to force a Frostburg three-and-out in its following drive, as a Bobcats' punt gave the Gulls the ball at the 50-yard line.
Jones got the drive started with a 4-yard run, before finding Taylor on a 9-yard pass. Taylor caught five passes for 93 yards in the fourth quarter alone; he finished the game with 121 yards on seven catches.
Moore, Jones, and Johnson combined for three rushes and 29 yards, moving to the Bobcats' 13, before Jones found senior Max Ehrsam in the back of the end zone on the right side to cut the Frostburg lead to only six, 27-21. Ehrsam turned around the Frostburg defensive back on the play and cut back inside past the defender for the catch.
The Bobcats got the ball back with 8:06 left in the game, looking to run as much clock as possible, but the Sea Gull defense again held strong. After only 14 yards on seven plays, the Gulls forced another punt to give the offense the ball back with over three minutes left in the game.
On the final drive, Frostburg twice forced the Sea Gulls into a fourth-and-long situation, but Salisbury was up to the challenge, going 2-for-2 on the drive and 4-for-5 in the game on fourth-down plays. On a fourth and 10, Jones found Taylor to keep the drive alive the first time on a 13-yard slant on the left side, setting the stage for the duo's late-game heroics.
After Salisbury took the lead on the Taylor catch, Frostburg made one last attempt with a 57-yard field goal, but the kick came up short, securing the comeback for Salisbury.
The Bobcats took control early in the first half to put the Sea Gulls in the 20-point hole. After senior Nick Batastini intercepted a tipped pass on Frostburg's first drive, the Bobcats took a 7-0 lead on their next series on a 24-yard Connor Cox run.
By halftime, Frostburg led 20-0, after a 13-point second quarter, with a touchdown coming from Cox on a 28-yard pass to Myles Burgess. Isaac Robinson added two field goals in the period, as well.
The Sea Gulls cut the halftime lead back to 13 in the third quarter on their second drive. Jones orchestrated a 12-play, 76-yard drive to make the score 20-7. Moore found a lane down the left sideline on a 20-yard run, before Jones found sophomore Brady Curley on a 24-yard pass down the middle on back-to-back plays to get the ball to the Frostburg 12.
Johnson and Moore combined for 11 yards, setting up a Jones 1-yard touchdown for the score.
The Bobcats responded with their final touchdown, but it was not enough, as the Sea Gulls were up to the challenge with their fourth-quarter thriller.
Jones finished the day 12-for-18 through the air for 199 yards and three touchdowns to go with the rushing score. With the effort, Jones now sits at 1,125 yards passing on the year with 13 touchdowns, both of which are the most since Dan Griffin threw for 1,208 yards and 15 scores in 2011.
Johnson led the way on the ground with 87 yards, while Moore added 46 yards.
The Sea Gulls also celebrated Senior Day before the game, honoring its 19 seniors. The group boasts a four-year record of 30-13 and will be makings its fourth-postseason appearance with this season's automatic bid to the national tournament.
Salisbury now looks to the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, November 15 to find out its first-round opponent. The first round of games will take place next Saturday, November 21. The selection show is set for 6 p.m. Log on to www.suseagulls.com for more information as it becomes available.