Nov. 21, 2009

Courtesy of California (Pa.) Athletics

With a last-minute fourth-quarter stop, the No. 22 California University of Pennsylvania football team edged past No. 17 Shippensburg, 26-21, on Saturday in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Division II Playoffs to advance to its third-consecutive NCAA Regional Championship.

The Vulcans, now 10-3, will travel to first-seeded West Liberty on Saturday, Nov. 28, for a 12 p.m. kickoff at Russek Field in West Liberty, W.Va. The No. 9 Hilltoppers advanced to the quarterfinals with a thrilling 84-63 victory against Edinboro. Cal U leads the all-time series against West Liberty by an 11-8 margin, but the two teams haven’t met since the 1993 season. Meanwhile, Shippensburg ends its season with a 9-3 overall record.

Leading 26-21 midway through the fourth quarter, sophomore linebacker Brett Diamond (Chesterfield, Va./Matoaca) intercepted a pass at the Shippensburg 20-yard line. Benefiting from the excellent field position, Cal U looked to seal the victory before junior running back Windell Brown (Duquesne, Pa. / Duquesne) lost a fumble at the 10-yard line on a third-down carry.

Capitalizing on the turnover, the Red Raiders moved the ball down to the Cal U 27-yard line on two big completions from quarterback Chad DiFebbo to his brother Chase DiFebbo and a 15-yard face-masking penalty against the Vulcans. However, the Vulcans forced Chad DiFebbo into an intentional grounding penalty on second down and didn’t allow Shippensburg to convert on a fourth-and-17 with 1:18 remaining.

The game also opened in a flurry for Cal U, as Windell Brown scampered 20 yards for a touchdown with 9:56 left in the first quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, senior Terrence Johnson (Braddock, Pa./Woodland Hills) blocked a punt and classmate Trey Allen (McKeesport, Pa./McKeesport) recovered the loose ball in the end zone to give the Vulcans a 14-0 lead with 7:59 remaining in the opening quarter.

Shippensburg cut the deficit to 14-7 late in the first quarter before graduate student Josh Portis (Woodland Hills, Calif./William H. Taft/Maryland) connected with senior wide receiver AJ Jackson (Lehigh Acres, Fla./Lehigh/Sequoias) for a one-handed, 37-yard touchdown with 8:59 left before halftime.

Portis finished the game with 172 passing yards on 13-of-23 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions. He now ranks third in single-season school history with 2,736 passing yards and is second with 3,136 yards of total offense.

Jackson continues his record-setting campaign, as he is now the single-season leader in school history in receptions (89), receiving yards (1,246) and receiving touchdowns (15). He finished with seven receptions for 108 yards and the second-quarter touchdown. In the victory, Jackson broke the school record for receiving in a year, which was set last season by Marcel Pestano (1,176).

Midway through the third quarter, Cal U increased its lead to 26-7 on a 23-yard touchdown run by senior running back Freddie Bacco (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin). Shippensburg countered with a 1-yard touchdown pass by Chad DiFebbo on its next possession to make the score 26-15 at the end of the quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Vulcans attempted to increase their lead as Portis found Jackson on a third-down completion, however, the play was negated due to a holding call against Cal U. On the next play, Portis fumbled on a rush attempt and Cal U was forced to punt. The Red Raiders then drove 59-yards to make in a 26-21 contest after Chad DiFebbo scrambled 27 yards for a touchdown. Shippensburg was unsuccessful on the two-point attempt as Chad DiFebbo’s pass was intercepted by graduate student linebacker Dontey Brown (McKeesport, Pa./McKeesport).

The defense then made its two critical stops with Diamond’s interception and a turnover on downs to seal its sixth all-time victory in eight NCAA Playoff games.

Defensively, Dontey Brown led the Vulcans with eight tackles (two solo). Diamond also registered seven stops (five solo) with 0.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 0.5 sack, one interception and one quarterback hurry.

With the victory, Cal U has posted its third-straight season with at least 10 wins – the only three occurrences in program history. The Vulcans will now face No. 9 West Liberty on Saturday, Nov. 28 in West Virginia. It marks the sixth game this year for Cal U against a nationally-ranked opponent.

The game was a rematch of the PSAC Championship two weeks ago, which was won by the Red Raiders in Shippensburg … As a team, Cal U rushed for 180 yards on 38 attempts with a team-high 83 yards from Bacco … The two teams combined to score on only one-of-five trips inside the red zone … The Red Raiders held the edge in both total yards and time of possession … The game featured a combined five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble) … Cal U is the lowest remaining seed of the final eight teams left in the NCAA Division II Playoffs.