Quarterback Michael Ruisch was 11-for-22 for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the second half while receiver Mitch Carsley had four catches for 106 yards and a TD as the Susquehanna University Football team erased an early 24-0 deficit to tie the game at 34-34 before falling to Muhlenberg College by a 37-34 margin in overtime Saturday afternoon in a Centennial Conference game on Amos Alonzo Stagg Field in Selinsgrove.
Susquehanna (2-1 Overall 1-1 Centennial) battled through a rough first half as Muhlenberg (2-0, 2-0) scored 17 points in the first quarter as the Mules took advantage of a couple big plays on offense and a turnover caused by the defense to jump out to the early lead.
Muhlenberg extended the lead in the second quarter scoring with 2:30 left in the first half to go up 24-0.
On the ensuing drive, Ruisch was sacked and rushed for a two-yard loss to start the drive but rebounded to connect with Carsley for a 26-yard gain on 3rd-and-20 and later found Kyle Good for another 21-yard gain and Anthony McCoy for a 17-yard pickup. Facing a 4th-and 15 from the Muhlenberg 38 and less than 30 seconds left in the half, Ruisch scrambled for a 20-yard gain to keep the drive alive and then found Mikah Christian for an 18-yard TD pass as time expired in the half.
After the break, Susquehanna was set to receive the second-half kickoff but a fumble on the return set up another score for Muhlenberg as the Mules tacked on another three points with a 37-yard field goal to take a 27-7 lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
The River Hawks responded well with one of their best drives of the game as Aaron Speight had a pair of big runs – for 13 and 11 yards – to start the drive and Ruisch connected with Christian on a 20-yard pass and then a 28-yard pass on consecutive plays to put the ball in the end zone and make it a 27-13 game after the extra point was missed.
Muhlenberg took the excitement out of the crowd with a 49-yard kickoff return and a 40-yard pass play to start the next drive. After a short touchdown run, the Mules regained the three-score lead with a 34-13 advantage with 10:04 left to play in the third quarter.
It was all Susquehanna for the rest of the second half as Susquehanna defense forced two three-and-out drives and the offense trimmed the lead as Ruisch finished the quarter with a 40-yard pass and catch by Carsley for the touchdown as time expired in the period. The extra point made it a 34-20 Muhlenberg lead heading into the final quarter.
The first Mule possession of the fourth quarter ended at midfield and the River Hawks did not waste any time putting more points on the board. A Ruisch run for 11 yards followed by a 44-yard pass play to Carsley started the drive and Speight capped the three-play drive with a 28-yard run around the right side as he stretched the ball over the goal line in the corner of the end zone to cut the lead to 34-27 early in the quarter.
After another defensive stand that forced another three-and-out Muhlenberg drive, Ruisch marched the River Hawks down the field again. On a third-and-10 early in the drive, Rusich hit Carsley over the middle foe a 21-yard gain and three plays later on another third down situation, Ruisch connected with Samuel Darrell for 45 yards down the left sideline to push the ball to the one-yard line.
Ruisch punched it in to tie the game at 34-34 with 6:31 left to play in regulation.
The Susquehanna defense continued its strong second half, limiting the Mules to a six-play, four-yard drive with the help of a couple Muhlenberg penalties.
The next Susquehanna drive stalled at the Muhlenberg 42 and a pooch punt by Ruisch pinned the Mules at the 14 with 1:32 left.
Muhlenberg managed just 23 yards on its drive due to solid defensive plays by Ricky Reyes and Cole Dixon on pass coverage but the River Hawks had the final chance from midfield with only 21 seconds left in regulation but the fourth quarter ended with the 34-34 tie as the teams headed to over time.
Susquehanna had the first possession of the extra period but were stymied but a pair of penalties and a 42-yard field goal attempt rattled off the left upright and out.
Muhlenberg gained just five yards on its overtime possession but hit a 37-yard field goal to end the game.
Ruisch finished the day 20-for-43 for 354 yards and three TDs and also ran for a TD while Carsley ended up with six catches and 141 yards. Christian had three catches and a pair of scores while Speight led the runner with 53 yards on 15 carries.
Dixon and Connor Thompson each had 11 tackles to lead the defense. Dixon added a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. Danial Shelton and Noah Schairer each added eight tackles and Kashief Hyatt chipped in seven stops for the River Hawks.
Susquehanna will hit the road for its next Centennial Conference game with a trip to Lancaster to face nationally-ranked Franklin and Marshall with a 1 p.m. start Saturday.