By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Defense could have been seen as a question mark for Susquehanna entering the season, but perhaps it only took time for new starters to become comfortable.
Using a mix of experienced linemen and underclassmen receiving a chance to start this year, the Crusaders came away with their first win of the year Saturday, beating Moravian, 27-17, in a Centennial Conference battle of previously winless teams.
"We are very, very pleased (to get our first win)," Susquehanna head coach Steve Briggs said. "We're just going to enjoy every part of it. It's good to get guys back and win."
While Briggs noted that his team has areas to improve, he emphatically showed his pleasure in getting one in the win column.
"Three digits: W-I-N!" Briggs exclaimed.
From the start of the game, the Crusaders (1-5, 1-4 CC) pressured Moravian (0-6, 0-5). When the Greyhounds tried to establish any momentum offensively, Susquehanna was able to break up plays in the backfield and keep tight coverage. The constant disruption by the Crusaders defense forced the Greyhounds into a number of mistakes that prevented a comeback.
With the Crusaders leading 13-3 early in the fourth quarter, Cody Miller made perhaps the most important defensive play in a day filled with big ones on both sides.
After Moravian deflected a Susquehanna punt to gain possession slightly beyond midfield at the Crusaders 47, Miller made his presence felt.
On a second-and-7, Miller broke for the ball from his cornerback slot on a short pass near the sideline and stepped in front to intercept the ball. With room to run, Miller raced to the end zone, staying on his feet to return the ball 56 yards for a touchdown.
"He did a nice job. They all did," Briggs said.
Miller nearly had an interception earlier in the game but could not hold on with open field in front of him. With his second chance, Miller bobbled the ball but regained control.
"The first one, I saw it and starting thinking 'touchdown' before I even caught the ball and dropped it," Miller said. "I knew I had to play a tight second half and I'd get another opportunity."
After each team failed to move the ball on their next possession, the Crusaders defense quickly flipped the field. On a third-and-13, Bill Mancini forced a Greyhounds fumble and Quinton Gierlatowicz emerged from the pile with the ball to give the Crusaders a chance to pull away.
Mark Rosenbaum, making his second start of the season under center after missing with time with an injury, went right to work with a short field.
With two receivers deep down field and one defensive back trying to cover both, Rosenbaum connected with Denzell Walker for a 35-yard score to extend the Crusaders' lead to 27-3.
However, the Greyhounds started to mount a comeback with a roughing the passer penalty early in the drive.
On the play, Adrian Bernard hit Greyhounds quarterback Corey Clemons after he released the ball; the officials ejected Bernard under the new targeting rule. By rule, Bernard will be forced to miss the first half of the Crusaders' Oct. 26 game versus Ursinus.
With the ball in Crusaders territory, Robbie Moyer, who entered the game for Clemons following the Bernard hit, drove down the field, finding Jalen Snyder-Scipio who dove for the end zone to cut the margin to 17.
Trying to ice the game, the Crusaders were unable to hold onto the ball and gave the Greyhounds a chance to make the game closer late.
Moyer connected with Snyder-Scipio for a second time in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 27-17. The ensuing onside kick sailed out of bounds, sealing a win for the Crusaders.
The Crusaders forced four fumbles, recovering two with a swarming defense. Aside from three turnovers, the Crusaders made an impact by keeping the Greyhounds in check and not allowing extra yardage after first contact.
The Crusaders were able to move the ball offensively, benefitting from short fields throughout the game, with Tim Wade finishing with 166 yards on the ground.
The Crusaders led 13-3 after the first half, thanks in part to a pair of field goals from former Selinsgrove standout Spencer Hotaling.