MEADVILLE, Pa. – Behind a balanced attacked and an incredibly efficient performance by senior quarterback T.J. Salopek, Allegheny out-dueled Ohio Wesleyan in a wild offensive battle at Frank B. Fuhrer Field on Saturday. The teams combined for over 900 yards of total offense, but the Gators were 7-for-7 in the red zone en route to a 41-21 victory.
The offensive totals were staggering for both teams. There were seven scoring drives of at least 65 yards and both passing attacks were firing on all cylinders. Salopek finished 31-of-35 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie Mason Espinosa completed 38-of-59 passes for 406 yards. Jermer Raymond, who was listed as the back-up fullback on the Battling Bishops depth chart, had a career-high 16 catches for 119 yards and a score. Terry Hartford served as the Gators' top target, with eight catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns.
The game was tied at seven after the first quarter of play, but 24 unanswered points in the second quarter powered Allegheny (5-2, 3-1 NCAC) to a 31-7 lead at the break and the Blue and Gold never looked back.
Freshman Sean Acosta, who finished the day with 37 yards on the ground, sparked the second period onslaught with a six-yard run five minutes into the frame. The score capped a 14-play, 81-yard drive which also chewed up over seven minutes of game time. In the last four minutes of the half, Salopek and Hartford hooked up twice for touchdowns. The first strike came one play after senior standout safety returned his fourth interception of the season 49 yards to the Ohio Weskeyan nine. After forcing a quick three-and-out, Allegheny got the ball back with three minutes left on the clock. Salopek went 4-for-4 on the drive including a 42-yard bomb to David Strawser and the ensuing two-yard connection to Hartford on the next play.
Espinosa flashed signs of a brilliant future as he kept the Battling Bishops (0-7, 0-3) rolling on offense in the third. Completing five straight passes, including two over 30 yards, the rookie signal caller handed the ball to De'Joun Fisher who punched it in from one-yard out to slice the deficit to 31-14 with seven minutes left in the third. The drive lasted only seven plays, but it covered 93 yards and marked the longest drive of the season against the Gators' defense.
Not wanting to lose any momentum, Allegheny continued its own aerial assault on the ensuing drive. Salopek was 5-for-5 on the series and the Gators marched 65 yards in nine plays before Salopek and Hartford hooked up once again – this time from five yards out. Leading 38-14 heading into the final minute of the third quarter, Alleghey turned to its ground game to cement the Senior Day victory, although Ohio Wesleyan would add another touchdown.
Although Hartford paced the receiving corps, he was one of nine Allegheny players to total at least 40 all purpose yards. Matt Griffith had five catches for 55 yards while Strawser and Sean Griffin each added three catches for 59 yards. Tight end Rob Carlisle had three catches for 41 yards.
The biggest difference between the two teams on Saturday besides the final score was the Gators' ability to run the ball while neutralizing the opposition's rushing attack for the third consecutive week. Brian Tamburlin had 15 carries for a game-best 72 yards and a touchdown and Salopek picked up 26 yards on three carries. Ohio Wesleyan was held to just 31 yards rushing on 16 attempts, while its longest run of the day covered nine yards.
One of the most amazing statistics about the offense show was that there were no sacks in the game despite 94 combined drop backs. Allegheny did have a season-high seven pass break-ups, including two by Facaros who delivered another outstanding individual effort. Zach Bell and Ryan Vietmeirer had five tackles each to lead the Gators. Pete Merkle, who picked off Salopek in the first, had a game-best 10 tackles for the Battling Bishops.
The 476 yards of total offense was a season-high for Allegheny, although the 437 yards allowed was also a season- high. Junior kicker Ryan Zipf had his busiest day of the season by far. In addition to eight kickoffs and five extra points, he was 2-for-2 on field goals including a 21-yard kick early in the fourth quarter that capped the scoring.