Salisbury's surprising 38-35 win against then-No. 4 Wesley on Saturday was cemented by sophomore Alex Potocko's 36-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in regulation. But the victory was also built on the play of the defense.
After surrendering 35 points, 544 yards and 19 first downs in the first three quarters, the No. 21 Sea Gulls (6-2 overall and 6-1 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference) limited the Wolverines (8-1, 7-1) to zero points, 74 yards and four first downs. It was the kind of performance coach Sherman Wood had been hoping for – at the start of the contest.
"The fourth quarter was the perfect game plan that we had put together for the beginning of the game," he said Thursday. "It just so happened that we finally executed."
Wood said the key to the defense's play was standing up to a Wesley offense that is annually one of the most prolific in NCAA Division III.
"It was our physicality," he said. "There were moments when Wesley wasn't challenged all the way. People were kind of laying back a little bit, and they were making big plays because of that. The physicality part, there were moments when we put a [linebacker] out on a receiver just to make him work a little bit. We just wanted to make them work and put people in front of other folks and just make them work. No free releases or those types of things. That definitely was the game plan."
Salisbury can clinch the conference title and a spot in the Division III playoffs with a victory over Frostburg State (6-3, 5-3) at Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m. Wood said the defense should be strengthened by the return of starting junior nose guard Benjamin Ludwig (Bel Air) and backup junior defensive end David Handy, who did not play against Wesley and were replaced by freshmen Isaac Johnson and Christopher Mukasa (Howard).
"They did exactly what we asked them to," Wood said of Johnson and Mukasa. "They played hard, they spelled some of the other guys as far as reps. Now we feel those two guys [Ludwig and Handy] will be ready to go on Saturday, and we will be as healthy as we've been all year."