The Gator football team bounced back from an opening week loss with a win at Hiram on Saturday by a score of 20-7.
With T.J. Salopek under center, the Gator offense charged out of the locker room to a 17-point first quarter. Salopek followed up week one’s notable second half performance with 11 completions on 18 attempts for a total of 113 yards passing.
Salopek’s favorite target was Jim Lieb, who had four receptions for 48 yards.
“T.J. and I really clicked today,” Lieb said. “We practiced some new routes this week in practice and they paid off during the game, especially in the first half.”
Though the offense belongs to Salopek, Saturday’s game belonged to the running backs. Fullback Matt Cellini and tailback Devin Raynor both had touchdown runs from inside the red zone.
“We were able to come out strong and score early,” Cellini said. “It was important to get this first win under our belts. Now we know what we need to do to win.”
Raynor, Cellini and Rodney Still were able to lead an impressive running game for the Gators, which led to a total of 183 yards. Raynor and Still had 81 yards rushing a piece. The combination of the three tailbacks was too much for the Hiram defense to handle.
Coach Mark Matlak was happy with the team’s performance, at least half of it.
“We played very well during the first half,” Matlak said. “However in the second half we couldn’t get much done on offense.”
It now seems that the quarterback controversy is over in Meadville, as they will opt once again to go with the sophomore Salopek as the starter for the next game against the Tartans.
Kicker Josh Whiteside, following an unimpressive week one, was able to connect on both extra points and was two for four on field goal attempts, including one from 30 yards. However, Matlak still sees some room for improvement.
“It all starts with the fact that we need to kick better,” Matlak said. “We have given away 13 points in two games so far.”
Jon Buggey and Mateo Villa led the Gators on the defensive side. Villa had a total of 14 tackles, while Buggey had nine.
Curt Anderson was able to pick off Hiram quarterback Trevor Henderson and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
The defense was able to keep the Terriers off the board until Hiram’s Steve Hammond ran in from nine yards out with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter.
“The defense played well for about 90-95 percent of the game,” Matlak said.
With Hiram out of their way, the Gators are preparing for their toughest test of the season. The squad will travel down I-79 to Pittsburgh to do battle with the Tartans of Carnegie Mellon, currently ranked 22nd in the nation.
“This win this week will give us some much needed momentum going down to Carnegie Mellon next week,” Cellini said.
Matlak also recognizes the gravity of this game.
“There is a big task ahead of us,” Matlak said. “I’m very confident that we can win this game.”