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Saturday, September 18, 2010

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Women’s soccer, volleyball Cross country

Defense holds, offense rolls
as football takes CC opener

For Kenneth Cobb, the call was simple, "rush razor."

In layman’s terms, the Muhlenberg defensive end uses a speed rush to beat his blocker and get to the quarterback.

The only problem was that the quarterback, Susquehanna’s Rich Palazzi, had been getting rid of the ball before the pressure could arrive.
J.T. Merklinger
Merklinger finished with a career-high 119 yards on 17 carries.

But with the Crusaders facing fourth down deep in Mule territory late in the fourth quarter, Cobb struck. He blew past his man and crashed into Palazzi just as he started to throw. The ball fell harmlessly incomplete as the Mule sideline exploded.

Muhlenberg had stopped Susquehanna inside the 10-yard line for the second time in less than 20 minutes and had the ball with just over three minutes to play and a seven-point lead.

The Mule offense would not let up the ball, and hung on to stave off Susquehanna, 21-14.

“They were working the quick pass and we just weren’t getting to them fast enough,” Cobb said. “But that time I beat him right away and just got to the quarterback. It felt great.”

After falling behind 7-0 early, Muhlenberg’s offense awoke in the second quarter.

Starting from their own 33, the Mules used a 24-yard J.T. Merklinger run and 39-yard pass from Dan Deighan to a leaping Isaiah Vaughn to get to the Crusaders’ doorstep.

One play later, Deighan crashed that door down with a 1-yard keeper to tie the game at seven.

But the Mules were not finished. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the offense took over at its own 32 with 4:30 left in the half.

John Gruver
Gruver's game-winning touchdown was the first catch of his career.
Muhlenberg methodically marched down the field with five passes and five runs.

The Mules finally capped the drive when Deighan found Merklinger in the front corner of the end zone for a four-yard scoring strike with 11 seconds to play before halftime.

“I’m actually surprised he threw it to me because I was blocking first and thought he was going to run it in,” Merklinger said of the first touchdown reception of his career. “But then I just squared my shoulders, turned around and worked with him like a scramble drill. I beat the guy to the corner of the end zone and got my feet in.”

After the Mule offense stalled on the opening drive of the second half, Muhlenberg’s defense responded. Senior defensive lineman Harrison Rowner sacked Palazzi on third-and-9 to force a Crusader punt.

A short 27-yard punt gave Deighan and company solid field position at their own 44-yard line.

A pair of Deighan completions to fullback MJ Rus and tight end Drew Brantner, along with 20 yards on the ground from Merklinger, moved the Mules to the Susquehanna 14-yard line.

But a rush for no gain and an incomplete pass forced the Mules into a third-and-10 situation.

Matt Musick
Matt Musick’s six tackles and one sack helped pace a defense that only surrendered 28 yards on the ground.
Deighan took the snap and surveyed the field. Sensing an oncoming rush, he escaped the pocket and scrambled to his left. Just before running out of bounds, Deighan found John Gruver sliding along the left side of the end zone for a 14-yard scoring strike.

“Everybody did their job and worked together today,” Deighan said. “We did what we knew we had to do to get the win and it was just an awesome team effort today.”

With a two-score lead and a defense that had surrendered less than 100 yards of total offense up to that point, the Mules appeared to be in good shape.

But Susquehanna took the ensuing kickoff and marched all the way to the Mule 5-yard line. After a 2-yard loss on first down and a pair of incompletions, the Crusaders opted to go for it on fourth and goal at the Muhlenberg 7.

Palazzi’s pass fell incomplete and Muhlenberg took over on downs.

After a punt and Susquehanna drive, the Mules once again forced fourth-and-goal at Muhlenberg 10. This time, Susquehanna cashed in to make it 21-14.

Muhlenberg went three and out on the ensuing drive, and once again Susquehanna drove deep into Mule territory. But the defense responded, yielding a total of one yard on the first three plays, setting the stage for Cobb’s heroics.

All that was left was for the Mules to run out the clock - and that came with a bit of drama too. Muhlenberg faced a fourth-and-1 from its own 23 with 1:30 left and elected to go for it. Rus plowed through the middle of the line for the first down, clinching the Mules' first win of the season.

“It was a nail biter all the way to the end, but it feels great to open the conference with a victory,” Merklinger said. “We know that every week is going to be a great game, so we’ve got to dig in. But this one feels pretty great right now though.”
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