Sea Gulls advance to NCAA quarterfinals for first time in 25 years with 3OT thriller over Kean
SALISBURY, Md. – Sea Gull Stadium's first overtime football game in five years was a classic as No. 13 Salisbury University defeated No. 15 Kean University, 49-47, in an NCAA tournament second round contest before 1,192 on Saturday afternoon. With the victory, Salisbury punches its ticket into the NCAA quarterfinals, where the Sea Gulls will be making their first appearance since advancing to the 1986 national championship game.
After trading points through the first two overtime periods, Salisbury (11-1) opened the third extra session with a 2-yard touchdown run by senior superback Randal Smedley. By rule, needing to go for two points, junior slot Ross Flanigan took the ball to the right pylon and leaped over a Kean defender to give SU an eight-point lead, 49-41. The SU defense looked as if it may hold Kean (10-2) on the ensuing possession but Cougar quarterback Tom D'Ambrisi hit Chris Suozzo for a 27-yard touchdown on fourth down to bring the game to within two points.
D'Ambrisi's pass on the two-point conversion sailed just over the head of T.J. Denehy to seal the victory and keep Salisbury's hopes for its first NCAA championship alive. The win gives SU a berth into the next round, where they will square off with the reigning Division III national champion, No. 1 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Salisbury and Kean locked up in a thrilling affair with four lead changes, 46 first downs and 983 yards of offense. SU scored on its opening possession as the Sea Gulls used a 14-yard touchdown scamper by Smedley to take a 7-0 lead six minutes in. Kean knotted the game up at 7-7 on its next drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by D'Ambrisi.
The Sea Gulls made a push at breaking the game open when junior quarterback Dan Griffin scored on a 1-yard run to conclude the next drive and senior slot Tyler Curley bulled in from 4 yards out, for a 21-7 lead. The SU defense was fantastic over the next quarter, as well. The Sea Gulls had several important stops, including an interception by sophomore defensive back Andre Carter that ended a Cougar drive deep in Sea Gull territory. The interception was the first of the day by Carter, who also snagged another key pick midway through the third.
The second half opened with each team collecting passing touchdowns before Griffin raced in for a 27-yard touchdown at the 4:22 mark of the third. Griffin's score gave SU a two-touchdown advantage, 34-20.
The Cougars brought the game to within one score four minutes later when Darius Kinney posted the first of three touchdown runs on the day. The two defensive squads were solid over the final 15 minutes of regulation, but Kean broke through with a 2-yard touchdown run by Kinney to cap a well-orchestrated drive and send the game into overtime.
SU began the overtime with a missed field goal, which allowed Kean the opportunity to win with any kind of score. The Cougars gained minimal yardage on their first two attempts before centering the ball in the middle of the field to give Billy Daniels a straight shot at a 31-yard field goal. On the brink of elimination, the Sea Gulls stood tall as junior defensive back Brandon Lemon blocked the kick to give SU a chance at redemption.
It was all SU would need as following Smedley's second touchdown of the game on the next drive, the defense came through with its late-game heroics to thwart the Cougar rally by forcing the failed two-point conversion.
Salisbury ran for 382 yards in the victory and was led by the efforts of Smedley, who used 26 carries to run for a 206 yards and two touchdowns. Griffin was a dual threat as he posted four total touchdowns on the day. Flanigan and senior wide receiver Doug Ticse each caught touchdown passes from Griffin.
The SU defense was paced by junior defensive back Chris Everett, who posted a team-high 15 tackles (seven solo). Sophomore defensive back Greg Stanton had nine tackles and one interception while seven other Sea Gulls had six tackles. Freshman punter Kyle Hamby had four punts for 171 yards, two of which landed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.
Kean was led offensively by D'Ambrisi, who was 15-of-26 through the air with three touchdowns and 271 yards. He also collected 57 yards on the ground with one score while Kinney finished with 61 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cougars were led on defense by Bekim Bujari, who posted a game-high 19 tackles (eight solo). Brad Higgins collected 11 tackles and forced one fumble while Brett Yajcaji had seven stops.
The Sea Gulls travel to UWW Saturday at 1 p.m. The Warhawks have won 42 consecutive games while advancing to the national championship each of the past six years.