By Anthony Washington
On a sunny but windy Saturday afternoon at Eiler-Martin Stadium, the East Stroudsburg University Warriors beat the Gannon University Golden Knights 49-37 in their regular season finale on Senior Day.
ESU’s defense came out firing on all cylinders. On Gannon’s opening possession, redshirt junior defensive end Ahmad McFarland sacked Gannon redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Phillips for a four-yard loss.
This brought up a third-and-long for Gannon. ESU’s defensive line closed the pocket and hurried Phillips into throwing a pass that was intercepted by junior safety Jimmy Verzicco.
ESU’s offense started the game red-hot. Redshirt senior quarterback Matt Soltes began ESU’s opening drive by completing four out of his first five passes.
Soltes completed a 17-yard pass to senior wide receiver Gerald Wendowski, a 14-yard pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Jon Schnaars and a 17-yard pass to junior fullback Sean Roth. Soltes capped off ESU’s first drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Schnaars.
ESU led Gannon 7-0.
On Gannon’s second possession, the Golden Knights came out blazing with a 61-yard streak down the field by senior running back and Warrior nemesis Brock Jones. Only the hustle of redshirt sophomore safety Maurice Jackson prevented Jones from scoring a touchdown.
One play after that big run, Gannon’s Phillips had an eight-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.
ESU’s next possession was cut short after a Soltes pass was intercepted by Gannon junior safety Mike Zanders.
This led to a long drive by Gannon, but ESU’s defense held the Golden Knights to only a field goal, making the score 10-7 Gannon.
ESU responded quickly. The Warriors put together a great drive, which was keyed by a fourth down conversion on a two-yard rush by redshirt senior running back Gerald Van De Cruz.
A couple of plays later, Soltes threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Schnaars.
ESU was up again 14-10.
The momentum carried over to ESU’s defense. The Warriors came up with their second turnover when Verzicco forced a fumble that was recovered by ESU redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Marc Ranaudo.
The Warriors continued to click on offense. They drove the ball all the way down to the goal line, where Gerald “The Bulldozer” Van De Cruz powered his way through for a one-yard touchdown run.
The score was now 21-10 ESU.
Gannon’s 17-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Liam Nadler to redshirt senior wide receiver Jesstin Hamm cut ESU’s lead to 21-17.
The offensive shootout continued. When ESU got the football back, they pulled off a ten-play, 92-yard drive which ended in a 48-yard one-handed touchdown catch from Soltes to redshirt junior running back Robert Healy.
ESU led again by eleven points.
On the next drive, ESU’s defense made a statement as they shut down Gannon’s offense. ESU’s Ranaudo had a key tackle that resulted in a loss of two yards for Gannon, and then a penalty against the Golden Knights put them in bad field position.
ESU redshirt junior outside linebacker Jerry Peralte’s sack of Nadler limited Gannon to a field goal attempt.
When Gannon missed its kick, ESU’s offense went right back to work. Soltes fired a two-yard pass to Schnaars that put ESU ahead 35-17.
Gannon then responded with a quick three-play drive that culminated with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Nadler to sophomore running back Brandon Mansell.
Still, the Warriors took a 35-24 lead into halftime.
The second half started out slowly for the Warriors as they were stopped on their first possession and had to punt.
Gannon drove the ball down the field 81 yards and scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nadler to Mansell.
The score was then 35-31 ESU, but that was as close as the Golden Knights would get.
After the two teams exchanged possessions, Soltes and company put together a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Soltes to Schnaars.
With the score 42-31, ESU was back in the driver seat again.
ESU’s defense was still too much for the Golden Knights. The Warriors came away with two back-to-back sacks, forcing Gannon to punt once again.
In the fourth quarter, Gannon drove the ball all the way to the ESU 9-yard line, but Nadler threw a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by redshirt sophomore defensive back Wesley Pierce.
ESU then came up with a long 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Van De Cruz that put ESU ahead 49-31.
Gannon got the ball back and came right down the field to score on a 13-yard pass from Nadler to Mansell, but the two-point conversion failed.
Gannon still trailed ESU 49-37. With less than five minutes to go and needing two scores, Gannon went for the onside kick, but it was recovered by ESU.
ESU simply ran out the clock and ended the game in the victory formation.
For the seniors, a victory was a good way to end their college football careers.
Senior cornerback Jimmy Myers, who has another year of eligibility left, stated, “It was good to end with a winning season.”
However, Myers also stated, “Next year starts with winter conditioning. Just going to push it to the limit so we’re twice as good as this year.”
“I left it all out there on the field today with my senior brothers so they can end on a winning note,” said Peralte.
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