Salisbury takes control early, hangs on to eliminate Rowan in opening round
SALISBURY, Md. – Senior running back Joe Benedetti ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns and senior linebacker Rodney Hill blocked an extra point and intercepted Rowan's Paul Hamersma late as the No. 14 Salisbury defeated the Profs 17-9 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday.
Benedetti scored from 10 yards out with 3:19 remaining in the fourth and the Salisbury (9-2) defense picked off Hamersma on consecutive drives to hold on for the win. The Gulls will face Widener, a 44-14 winner against Bridgewater State, next Saturday.
The Profs used their final two timeouts and got the ball back with 1:03 to play following a 31-yard Kyle Hamby punt to the 35. SU was whistled for a roughing-the-pass passer penalty, moving the ball up to midfield, but three incomplete passes later, Rowan faced a fourth and 10 to keep its season alive.
Hamersma dropped back and lofted a pass down the middle of the field that safety Greg Stanton grabbed at the 7-yard line. Stanton's team-leading sixth interception of the season ensured the Sea Gulls will play another week.
SU never trailed, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on the first offensive possession of the game when Benedetti scored his 11th touchdown of the season from 16 yards out. Quarterback Dan Griffin found slot Isaiah Taylor with a 31-yard pass on the play prior to the Benedetti score, which capped a nine-play, 84-yard drive, at the 10:50 mark.
Rowan responded with a touchdown drive of its own right away. Hamersma, who started in place of senior quarterback Louie Bianchini due to injury, completed three straight passes to move the Profs to their 40. Three plays later, he found Frank Giardina for 13 yards and a first down to the Salisbury 30-yard line.
Rowan marched to the 4, and it seemed the Sea Gulls' defense would hold, but Hamersma hooked up with tight end Chris Garcia on fourth and goal from the 2 for a TD with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
Hill, though, came up big on the extra point blocking it to keep the SU lead intact. It was SU's sixth blocked kick of the season.
The teams traded 27-yard field goals in the second and third quarters to make it 10-9 before Benedetti finished a seven-play, 40-yard drive over 3:30, setting up the strong defense in the final three minutes.
Benedetti averaged 5.7 yards on 22 carries while Taylor totaled 110 with 67 receiving and 43 rushing. Griffin was 2-for-6 passing, with both completions going to Taylor, and had 22 yards rushing.
Hamersma was 24-for-46 with 155 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Keith Corcoran ran for 68 yards on 14 carries and Barone caught a game-high nine passes for 61 yards.
Stanton, Chris Everett and Matt McMurdo each tallied nine tackles to lead the SU defense. Hill finished with six tackles, the interception, blocked kick and a breakup.
Dominic Caruso led Rowan with a game-high 12 tackles. He also posted a tackle for loss and forced fumble.