The heart of the Millersville football team beat to rhythm of determination and relentlessness for their home opener this past Saturday.
The Marauders lost their home opener to California University of Pennsylvania 29-13. The Vulcans entered the game ranked fifth in Division II.
“All of the position groups battled,” Millersville outside linebacker Sean Dugan said. “We play them to the end.”
Despite Kobe Miranda’s perfectly executed handoff from reigning PSAC East offensive player of the week quarterback Collin Shank, the offense went three and out on their first drive.
“Across the board, our team fought as hard as they could play,” Millersville head coach Greg Breitbach said.
The Vulcan offense ate up most of the first quarter with two scoring drives. A costly facemask penalty on Millersville allowed Cal to take an early 7-0 lead.
Shank fumbled the football on Millersville’s next possession. Which allowed California to extend their lead to 14-0 off an 8-yard pass from Michael Kier to wide receiver Jordan Dandridge.
Under next drive, Shank found wide receiver Kevin Wiggins for 54 yards for a first down conversion. However, on the next play, Shank went down with an injury on a scrambling play in front of the California sideline.
“Any time that your starting quarterback is not there, you have to adapt,” Breitbach said.
With Millersville sniffing the red zone, Stephen Flanagan came in relief for Shank. However, the offense of momentum fizzled out due to an interception by California’s Luke Hrapchak.
“We really had to try to get in rhythm,” Breitbach said.
But Millersville would get the ball right back. Tommy Halloway caused Michael Keir to fumble at the California 22.
Millersville tried to capitalize on the turnover with the field-goal attempt. However, the 39-yard attempt was blocked by Luke Hrapchak.
Millersville’s misfortunes would continue early in the second quarter when punter Tyler Reiman mishandled the snap in the end zone for a safety.
Collin Shank did come back in the second quarter. Sadly, his injuries plagued his mobility around the pocket. His next two drives would end in interceptions with Flanagan filling in for him in the second half.
The offense felt the loss of Collin Shank directly. Especially when facing off against a Vulcan defense who are known for stopping the run. According to Breitbach, the offensive line becomes pressured to provide more protection and for the quarterback to throw timely passes to the right spots.
“We told our team at halftime that you have to score on defense or special teams to give us a chance,” Breitbach said.
The Marauder offense managed to find its rhythm early in the third quarter. Stephen Flanagan led the Marauders to their end zone with a 15-yard touchdown.
“Once we were able to adapt and begin a rhythm, we were able to get something going,” Breitbach commented on the offense.
The defense stood out in the second half where they held the Vulcans to a field goal with four minutes left in the third quarter.
In the beginning of the fourth quarter, cornerback Brendan Sherman scored a defensive touchdown for the Marauders. His 37-yard return would get Millersville within two touchdowns.
“I always feel like the momentum is going to swing in our direction,” Dugan commented on the interception. “It was one big play we had, but we fell short.”
After failing the two-point conversion, Millersville successfully executed an onside kick. However, the Marauders could not take advantage of it. The failed fourth-down conversion allowed California to get the ball back and eat three minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Marauder defense maintained its ground inside the red zone and only allowed the Vulcans to kick a field goal instead of a touchdown.
“I’m extremely happy with the effort and the execution of our defense,” Breitbach said.
Dugan believes that the entire defense are leaders. Him and Coach Breitbach stated that the defense played with heart the entire game.
“It wasn’t too hard to regroup everyone because everyone was regrouping each other,” Dugan said.
Stephen Flanagan would finish the game completing 10 out of 20 pass attempts for 55 yards. He also rushed for 34 yards.
Previously to Saturday’s loss, Flanagan has seen some quarterback action as a redshirt and in high school at Garnet Valley.
Coach Breitbach stated that he and his coaching staff recruited Flanagan as a quarterback. However, the coaching staff saw a better opportunity for him to seek playing time as a wide receiver over the last few seasons.
He then mentioned that Flanagan brings mobility to the offense, especially in the zone read plays. He added that Flanagan took care of the ball better in the second half.
“Stephen stepped in there and did an admirable job,” Breitbach commented on Flanagan. “He’s a competitive player and he certainly played his heart out on the field.”
To Breitbach and his players, each new game is a new season. The Marauders will travel to Kutztown University to face the Golden Bears, who are the reigning PSAC East Division champions.
Both Dugan and Coach Breitbach stated that in order to beat Kutztown, they must clean up on turnovers.
Breitbach added that the team needs to continue to play good defense and find a way to become more rhythmic on offense. The team also has a high sense of confidence knowing that they’ve taken steps forward and can win close games.
“Everything is still in front of us,” Breitbach said. “We feel like we have an opportunity to compete really hard [against Kutztown]. Certainly, our team is confident and they feel like they can win this week.”