The No. 23 Salisbury University football team opened play in the redesigned Sea Gull Stadium on Friday night and did so in style, claiming a 34-18 victory against No. 16 Albright College.
Seniors Ryan Jones and Connor Canonico paced the offense with two touchdowns apiece, but the first to make his presence known was Sean Rowland, who took the opening kickoff at the 8-yard line and got through the hole near the 25-yard line, before taking off down the left sideline, breaking a few tackles and scoring the 92-yard kick return just 12 seconds into the contest.
Rowland returned three kickoffs on the night, for an average of nearly 57 yards per return, while also grabbing a pair of receptions for 16 yards.
The Lions (0-1) got a 24-yard field goal from Devin Goetz on the next possession, capping a 58-yard drive, but Salisbury (1-0) came right back with a three-play drive, finished off by Canonico’s 2-yard touchdown run to the right of the center, pushing the advantage to 14-3.
Albright got its only first-half touchdown with 1:07 showing on the clock in the second quarter, as the Salisbury defense clamping down in key situations in the first 30 minutes. The Lions reached the red zone five times in the first half, missing out on three scoring chances by turning the ball over on downs, suffering from a D.J. Davis interception after Cerf Amouzougan put pressure on quarterback Mike Knight, and missing a 32-yard field goal.
Salisbury got two scores from Jones to start the second half, both runs coming from 15 yards out, and pushing the lead to 28-10 while the Sea Gull defense, led on the day by Davis and Mark Davis Jr. who each had nine tackles, surrendered just one third-quarter first down.
Jones’ second scoring run came early in the fourth quarter and the lead grew to 24 points when Canonico found pay dirt again, this time on a plunge from a yard out, with just over six minutes to play.
The Lions got in the end zone one more time, but would get no closer than the 16-point deficit.
Jones rushed for 118 yards in the victory, while Canonico went for 70 and Ryan Kolb added 62 with Salisbury putting up 277 yards on the ground. Jones also threw for 74 yards on 5-of-8 passing.
The pass-happy Albright offense threw for 241 yards between Knight and Alex Vignola, but the Salisbury secondary kept the efforts in check with seven pass break-ups and two interceptions. Sophomore Shane Gaines broke up three passes, while freshman Andre Boone had one break up and one interception.
The Sea Gulls now get set for New Jersey Athletic Conference play beginning in two weeks as Montclair State University comes to Salisbury on Sept. 17.