By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
All Jack McCarty could think about since last year when he was granted a rare fifth year of football at Susquehanna University was getting back on the field at Nicholas A. Lopardo Stadium and helping the Crusaders win.
“We have been waiting for this since last November; that’s why we came back,” the strong safety said as teammate and Selinsgrove High graduate Mike Ritter, another of four fifth-year starters was doing a television interview, with SU band playing in celebration of the Crusaders’ come-from-behind 37-21 win over U.S. Merchant Marine on Saturday evening.
McCarty’s 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown was part of a three-TD scoring barrage in the final 3 minutes, 13 seconds as SU rallied from a 21-17 fourth-quarter deficit.
The game was all defense for the first half and much of the third quarter. SU trailed 7-3 at halftime and 14-10 after three quarters.
“It’s tough to prepare for that team when you see them, let alone having no film on them,” SU coach Steve Briggs said. “So it’s a tribute to our kids and the coaches. We made some great adjustments at halftime, the kids came out and we really took it to them — and that is a much improved team.
“It’s a little misleading how the first half went,” he said.
Susquehanna took the lead on a 2-yard pass from Mark Rosenbaum to Ritter with 9:50 left in the game. But the Mariners surprised the defense when, after not throwing downfield, quarterback Alex Coviello hit a wide-open Christopher Cook for a 44-yard TD to put the visitors up 21-17.
“We talked about it, but (free safety) Jalon (Scott) got caught and that was his responsibility, but I think he answered pretty well, with an interception,” Briggs said, referring to Scott’s 48-yard pick-six to complete the scoring.
“That’s an excellent defensive effort against a team we never saw before,” he added.
“It’s tough. They run (the triple option) very well, they are very disciplined team,” McCarty added.
Linebacker Adrian Bernard and McCarty had 11 and 10 total tackles, respectively. Southern Columbia grad Ken Schetroma had six and forced a fumble.
The Crusaders came right back after the TD bomb, with Rosenbaum hitting passes to Alex Patchin, a couple of first-down runs by exciting freshman Tim Wade, then Rosenbaum connecting again with Ritter on a 23-yard score with 3:13 to play.
Three plays later, a quarterback pitch landed on the ground deep in the Mariners’ backfield, and McCarty scooped it and took it the house for a 30-21 lead.
“I saw it laying out there and I had to go get it. That’s what we are taught: see the ball go down, go get it and that’s what we did. My team did a great job forcing the fumble and I ended up being lucky and being the guy picking it up for a touchdown,” McCarty said.
And just three plays after that, Scott picked off a pass and took it 48 yards for another score to sew up the opening-day victory.
The Crusaders struggled offensively in the first half as first-year starter Rosenbaum had trouble connecting with his receivers. They settled for just a 31-yard field goal by Selinsgrove’s Spencer Hotaling. The Mariners’ TD was a blocked punt return.
Briggs said, “I think experience means everything and I think (Rosenbaum) grew up. And those were some of the adjustments at halftime.”
Ritter said the problems were more on the receivers than on the quarterback,
“He does a great job getting the ball where it needs to be. We were cutting routes short, ran the wrong route here and there, so we got back ... were on the same page with Mark as we should have been in the first half, and got the job done.”
He added that when the team went into the halftime locker room, “I was really expecting to get reamed out. We played one of the worst first halves that I’ve been a part of here at Susquehanna. But (the coaches) made some adjustments in our run game and then the pass game opened up after that, knowing all we had to do was execute rather than trying to do something outrageous.”
There were mistakes made, but in the end, they were outnumbered by the smiles on the players faces with win No. 1 in the books.