CORTLAND, N.Y. – The No. 21 Salisbury University football team fell in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament on Saturday afternoon, 45-21, at No. 25 State University of New York at Cortland.
The Sea Gulls struck first on their first drive of the game, after receiving the opening kickoff. Senior Jerome Johnson kicked things off with a 6-yard rush, before junior Ryan Jones took the ball 12 yards on a rush to the right.
On the sixth-straight run of the drive, junior Connor Canonico went up the middle for 4 yards to move into Cortland territory at the 48. Jones then started a run to the right, but cut back across the field to the left and took the ball 48 yards down the left sideline for the score on the seventh play of the series.
After the extra point for sophomore Alex Potocko, the Gulls led 7-0 less than five minutes into the contest.
The Red Dragons responded on their first drive with a long score. Steven Ferreira found Jake Smith on a 66-yard pass to tie the game, but Salisbury continued its fast start to retake the lead.
The Gulls started on their own 27 after a 27-yard kickoff return by junior Aarron Moore. After a 2-yard run from Canonico, Jones found Moore on a 26-yard pass down the middle to move back onto the Red Dragons' side of the field.
Cortland forced the Sea Gulls into a fourth down, but Johnson kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Moore then took a toss off the left side and down the left sideline for an 18-yard gain, setting up a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle by Canonico, giving Salisbury the lead back, 14-7, after the Potocko point after.
The Sea Gull defense forced a three-and-out on Cortland's ensuring drive, giving the offense possession back, but a Salisbury fumble gave the Red Dragons control again in SU territory. Cortland took advantage, tying the game on a 2-yard Ferreira keeper.
Salisbury looked to get things going again with 1:05 left in the first quarter, and Canonico started the series with a 45-yard run up the middle. Canonico broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, side-stepping his defender, before finding wide open space in front for the big gain. However, on the Gulls' next play, the Red Dragons forced another fumble to regain possession.
They again took advantage, capping a seven-play drive with a 12-yard pass from Ferreira to Nick Wagner to take Cortland's first lead, 21-14.
The rest of the first half became a defensive battle, with the teams forcing a combined six punts on the final eight drives of the half. Cortland added its fourth touchdown with 5:50 to go in the half, but missed a 38-yard field goal just before the break, giving the Red Dragons a 28-14 at half.
Canonico led the Gulls with 69 rushing yards in the first half, while Jones added 60 yards. Moore tallied 49 yards through the air to lead the way.
Cortland opened the second half with the ball and capped a nine-play drive with a field goal to push its lead to 31-14.
The Sea Gulls looked to get their offense going again on their first drive of the second half, and on the power of a 12-yard run from Jones, 13-yard run from Johnson, and 14-yard run from Canonico, leading a nine-play series, SU moved down to the Cortland 6-yard line. However, the Red Dragons forced the Gulls' third fumble of the game to halt the drive.
The Salisbury defense was up to the task, forcing a punt, which only traveled 18 yards to the SU 49, before the Gulls' offense capitalized on the field position.
Jones started with a 4-yard run, and once in Red Dragon territory, he found Johnson up the left seam on a 13-yard pass. Jones followed that with an 18-yard run off the left side, setting up an 8-yard score by Canonico to cut the deficit to 31-21.
Cortland took the lead into the final quarter, but increased the advantage to 38-21 on the first play of the fourth frame.
The Red Dragons added one more touchdown in the fourth to cap the win, before the Gulls made their final comeback attempt.
After sophomore Kenny Vercilien recovered a Cortland fumble, and a Red Dragon penalty set up Salisbury on the Cortland 47, Johnson rushed 14 yards down the right side to the 33-yard line.
However, Cortland forced the possession over on downs to secure the win.
The Sea Gulls were led by Canonico's 106 rushing yard and two scores, while Jones added 99 rushing yards and one touchdown. Jones added 107 yards through the air, giving him 1,232 passing yards this year, which is the most for an SU signal caller since Dan Griffin threw for 1,208 in 2011.