Despite opening up a brand new season, Edinboro’s running game woes on each side of the ball followed them from last year when the Scots took the field on Thursday night at Sox Harrison Stadium. Powered behind 235 rushing yards, St. Joseph’s College (Ind.) was able to grind out a 30-10 road win over Edinboro in front of an announced crowd of 4,172 in the Fighting Scots’ 2015 season opener.
“I’m shocked, to be honest with you,” 10th year head coach Scott Browning said after the game. “I thought we’d come out and I thought we’d play better. I thought we would handle adversity better than we did.”
Racking up just 34 rushing yards as a team until the game’s final drive, Edinboro (0-1) struggled to find a ground attack as junior transfer Cory Bell made his first career start for the Scots. Bell finished with 42 yards on 13 carries before redshirt freshman and converted defensive back Ja’maal Eveillard carried the ball six times for 66 yards to finish the contest.
Conversely, St. Joe’s (1-0) got ground production from three solid sources. Redshirt-senior running back Braxton Shelton, the leading rusher in all of the Great Lakes Valley Conference last season, paced the Pumas with 96 yards rushing on 11 carries and a touchdown.
“We knew they were big, bruising running backs,” said senior defensive end Domenic Principale. “We tried to prepare for them. We just clearly weren’t prepared enough. Next week will be different.”
Redshirt junior back Kobi Cook finished his night with 56 yards rushing on 19 carries. Additionally, redshirt junior quarterback Wade Burtron posed a big threat in the run game amassing 79 yards on 14 touches and a second-half touchdown run.
“We knew we were coming into a mobile quarterback and we tried to prepare for it, but it’s tough during the week when you don’t have one of those guys,” Principale said.
St. Joe’s senior placekicker Gavin Voss got the scoring started with a 44-yard field goal to cap off a 13-play drive on the Puma’s second possession before adding to it as Shelton erupted for a 53-yard touchdown run nearing the end of the first quarter.
“I thought it was a very physical game,” Browning said. “I thought it was as physical as any PSAC game; very physical. I think they’re really good backs. They’re very solid.”
Edinboro responded with a nine play, 75-yard scoring drive of its own that took just over five minutes off the game clock. Making his second career start, sophomore quarterback Jake Sisson completed five consecutive passes on the drive before eventually hooking with up Robert Morris transfer and redshirt junior tight end Justin Kempka on a two-yard touchdown toss. On the Scots’ next possession, facing a third down and 20 at his own 8-yard line, Sisson fired a pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Alex Caratelli, another Robert Morris transfer, for 39 yards to flip the field. However, St. Joe’s cornerback Jessie Pourch hit the eject button on Sisson, intercepting him before Edinboro could reach field goal range.
St. Joe’s led 10-7 at halftime, having picked off Sisson twice in the first half. “Inconsistent,” Browning said of Sisson’s start. “We need to go back and re-evaluate it. I thought he had a great camp and he gave a couple easy ones away.”
Taking the ball first to start the second half, Edinboro began its third quarter with one run and five straight incomplete passes that resulted in a pair of three-and-outs. After stalling for a third straight three-and-out, a St. Joe’s muffed punt gave Edinboro life as the Scots recovered the fumble at the Puma’s 17-yard line. Only gaining two yards, however, the Scots would settle for three points as redshirt-sophomore Austin Reese connected on his first career field goal attempt.
The Pumas, meanwhile, would capitalize on the Scots’ offensive stall on the scoreboard with a pair of Voss field goals and a Burtron quarterback keeper for a score, heading to the fourth quarter up 20-10. St. Joe’s iced the game with a 29-yard field goal and another Pourch interception of Sisson, returned for a 31-yard touchdown, on the play following the ensuing kickoff.
Sisson finished the night 26-of-42 through the air, 215 yards passing, one touchdown and four interceptions. “We were really confident coming into this game,” Sisson said. “I had to execute a little better; threw four picks and you can’t win with four picks.”
In the loss, redshirt junior receiver Darren Massey, who finished with 100 yards receiving on the night, tied a single game school record with 13 receptions.
“I think we need to go back and reevaluate where we’re at personnel wise and get our guys playing; coach em up,” Browning concluded. Edinboro will host Shippensburg on Saturday, Sept. 12 with a noon kickoff to open up PSAC play.
Mike Fenner is a staff writer for The Spectator.