ALFRED, N.Y. – The No. 23 Salisbury University football team took its first Empire 8 Athletic Conference loss of the season, and just the second in nearly three years in the league, falling on Saturday at Alfred University, 31-21.
For just the third time this season, Salisbury (5-3, 4-1 Empire 8) saw its opponent score first, but it wasn't until after the Gulls moved the ball into Saxon territory.
The Sea Gulls took the opening kick, started at their own 25-yard line and moved methodically into Alfred's end of the field. Over seven plays, including six carries, the longest of which was a 22-yard jaunt by junior quarterback Joey Jones, the Gulls got as far as the Saxon 33-yard line, but were forced to punt. Junior punter Kyle Hamby, one of Salisbury's most dangerous weapons this year, dropped a kick down at the Alfred 1-yard line.
But the Saxons (6-2, 4-1 Empire 8) would answer, moving 99 yards on their first drive of the day, covering the distance in nine plays, capped by a 2-yard scoring run by Calvin Bain with 5:08 left in the first quarter.
Salisbury would answer just before the end of the first quarter, moving 42 yards on four plays, following a short Alfred punt, and punched the ball in from 16 yards out on a run by senior super back Brendan Chavis, tying the game at 7-7 with 1:23 left in the first.
Alfred took the lead in the second quarter, on another extended drive covering 61 yards for a 14-7 lead, but again, Salisbury would answer. This time it was Jones connecting with junior wide receiver Isaiah Taylor for a 38-yard strike for the tying score with just over four minutes remaining before halftime.
The Saxons, however, would grab the lead just before the break, moving 84 yards on five plays, to score with under 90 seconds remaining, taking a 21-14 lead into halftime.
The Salisbury defense, which has been strong all season, including pitching two shutouts, forced three Saxon possessions to end in three-and-out chances, and one on downs over four plays, on the day. The first two Alfred drives of the second half went three-and-out, giving the Salisbury offense an opportunity to pull even again.
The Sea Gulls got the ball at the Saxon 26-yard line after a short Alfred punt. The drive was set up after Hamby downed another punt at the Alfred 1-yard line and the defense allowed no movement by the Saxon offense. Sophomore linebacker Nick Anzallo, who led the Salisbury defense with 10 tackles, made a stop on Alfred's one rush on the drive and two incompletions gave Salisbury the ball in prime position.
It took just two plays, a 24-yard run by sophomore Jerome Johnson and a 1-yard run by Jones to tie the game at 21-21, but Salisbury could not take the lead at any point during the game.
Salisbury did retake possession in the fourth quarter with a chance for the lead, after Alfred's next possession stalled out just outside of field goal range. But the only turnover of the day, a Jones interception into the hands of Alfred's Justin Liberta, proved to be the difference as the Saxons scored on the next play, taking a 28-21 lead with 14:49 left in the game.
Salisbury had three more offensive chances, but could only get to the Alfred 26-yard line before seeing their best scoring chance of the fourth quarter end in a turnover on downs.
Third-down conversion rates for each team was key in the game; Salisbury struggled, facing an average of just under 12 yards to go on third down, converting just one time out of six tries. The Saxons were successful on nearly half of their chances on third down (6-of-13) in the game.
Along with Anzallo's 10 tackles, the first double-digit tackle effort by a Sea Gull since Rodney Hill had 10 against Alfred last October, senior James Hall had eight tackles and senior Andre Carter had seven.
Johnson finished with a team-best 55 yards rushing while Jones was 4-of-12 passing for 86 yards.
Hamby averaged 39 yards per his four punts on the day, dropping three of them inside the 20-yard line.
The Sea Gulls will look to rebound at home next Saturday, Nov. 9, when they host Ithaca College (7-1, 5-1 Empire 8) at Sea Gull Stadium. The game will be the Bombers' final conference game of the season, and Salisbury will need a win to remain in the hunt for the conference title and the league's automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.