CALIFORNIA – When it came time to name a game ball recipient on defense, the list on California University’s football team was long and impressive.

When it came time to name a game ball recipient on offense, well, the list of defensive players was long and impressive.

Cal’s offense botched two possible scores in the first quarter and one more in the second but still routed Mercyhurst, 37-0, in a PSAC game Saturday.

Do that against Indiana or Slippery Rock down the road and the tone for the rest of this story would take on a different, darker side.

But this is Mercyhurst, which has lost nine of the last 13 games in this series.

“Our defense is playing with a lot of confidence,” said Cal head coach Gary Dunn. “We haven’t arrived yet. We have to do a better job with penalties.

“We play the next play at California. At the end of the day, we won the game, 37-0, and we’ll get back to work on Monday.”

Cal (2-0, 5-0) was penalized 11 times for 110 yards. Mercyhurst (0-2, 1-4) had more penalty yardage, 110, than total yards, 106.

Back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns turned the game Cal’s way. First, Kavon Morman picked off a pass and returned it 29 yards for a score. Then, on Mercyhurst’s next possession, Noah Dillow went 12 yards with an interception for a touchdown.

“Every single game, we come out here and act like that team is our hardest opponent,” said Dillow, who had seven tackles. “Shutout was the goal. We still have things we have to work on, missed tackles and penalties.”

The running game was just OK, 55 yards on 26 carries, but quarterback Noah Mitchell was solid, completing 24 passes in 35 attempts for 304 yards.

“It’s hard to win games, especially in the PSAC,” said Mitchell. “The same thing has been true here as long as I’ve been here: Play the next play.”

Mitchell had two touchdown passes in the second half to put the game out of reach, a 16-yarder to Derek Lockhart in the third quarter that gave Cal a 30-0 lead, and a 1-yarder to Junior McConahy with 4:18 to play.

This was the third shutout of the season for the Vulcans, all at home. Cal will need that defense to continue to throw shutouts to reach the NCAA Division II playoffs.

California used its defense to build a 24-0 lead at halftime. Cal took an 10-0 lead on a 23-yard field goal by Anthony Beitko and eight-yard pass from Mitchell to JaQuae Jackson.

Then the defense sprung to life. Kavon Morman stepped in front of a Joe Carter pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.

Just 1:03 later, Dillow picked off a pass thrown by Brian Alsobrooks, who transferred from Cal a few years ago, and Dillow returned it for a score and 24-0 halftime lead.

“Our defense did a great job early,” said Mercyhurst coach Marty Schaetzel, who will retire at the end of the season. “We didn’t win the field position battle early. .... But they really rallied and put ourselves in a bad way with the two pick-sixes.”

Notes

Linebacker Gabe Miller was sent off for targeting with 2:12 left in the half. During halftime, it was determined by the officials that Miller did not level an illegal hit to the head. Miller was allowed back in the game in the second half. ... Cal running back Kyle Brunson had 37 yards rushing on 11 carries. Tyson Hill had four catches for 125 yards. including a 72-yarder in the second half.

Assistant Sports Editor

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling.

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