An early 13-0 deficit hindered the SVSU football team Saturday night as it fell on the road to Wayne State 41-31 in its GLIAC opener.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Conklin, along with the entire SVSU offense turned in another strong performance, but fell short in the shootout with the Warriors.
Conklin threw for 318 yards on 23-31 passing, and senior receiver Alfonso Vultaggio hauled in a game-high 10 catches for 134 yards.
“At times, the offense was really clicking,” head coach Jim Collins said. “Ryan completed a lot of passes, and the receivers made some plays. We failed to convert some key third downs, and that played a big role.”
It was the Warriors fast start offensively that went on to hurt the Cardinals and their comeback attempts. Wayne State began the game with an eight play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback D.J. Zezula to receiver Deiontae Nicholas. It was the first of Zezula’s three touchdown passes on the evening. The extra point failed making it 6-0 Wayne State.
After an SVSU three-and-out, Wayne State wasted no time finding the end zone again, as Zezula hooked up with another receiver on a long pass, this time Darece Roberson, for a 54-yard touchdown strike.
“Wayne executed really well on offense,” Collins said. “They hit three big plays in the first half that made a big difference early on. They are a tough team to play against from behind, because they will start to pound their big running back and wear you down.”
Wayne did just that, as running back Romello Brown carried the ball 21 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
The SVSU offense began to click late in the first quarter when an Alex Kenrick field goal capped a long SVSU drive spanning nearly eight minutes, bringing the score to 13-3. After a Wayne State turnover on downs, SVSU got back within three as Conklin ran the ball in for a three-yard score that capped a nine-play, 69-yard drive.
“The team never gave up,” Conklin said. “We went down quick and easily could have given up, but this team doesn’t quit. We truly believe that we were the better team tonight but we just had to make more plays.”
Following another WSU score, Conklin connected with redshirt freshman receiver Marcus Edmondson on a 44-yard touchdown pass.
It looked as though the Warriors were finally pulling away, as they added a score late in the half and again at the end of the third quarter, making it a 34-17 game. But SVSU responded with a touchdown of its own when freshman running back Nate McCrary found the end zone from one yard out. Kenrick’s extra point made it 34-24 with just under five minutes left.
The Warriors slammed the door on its next possession when Nicholas scored on a 41-yard run to cap a seven-play, 68-yard drive that gave the Cardinals the ball down 17 with just under two minutes remaining.
The Cardinals offense answered one final time with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game when sophomore running back Tommy Scott Jr. scored on an 18-yard pass from Conklin. Scott, who missed last week’s game, also carried the ball 18 times for 100 yards.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard and made their share of plays (Saturday),” Collins said. “Wayne just played better.”
Defensively, SVSU was led by senior linebacker Bryan Jones, who had 11 tackles on the evening. Junior defensive back Dillon Dixon also added seven. Redshirt freshman defensive back Aaron Berry also came up with a third-quarter interception for SVSU.
The loss dropped SVSU to 2-1 overall. Next week, the Cards hosts Michigan Tech in the annual Hall of Fame Game. Tech has lost its last two games, including a 42-7 loss to Grand Valley on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
“From what I know about this team, we will be exited and motivated to get back to work and prepare for Michigan Tech,” Collins said.