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Shippensburg clinched the Eastern Penn title and a berth to the Sweet 16 Saturday with a 36-24 defeat of St. Joe’s. When Shippensburg steps on the field at the national playoffs next spring, it’ll be the program’s first time doing so since 1995.

“It’s huge. Everyone’s excited,” said Shippensburg president Dan McGuire. “It’s the best day for our team in a long time. No one can be more happy. We’re ready to work, ready to go hard in the spring. It’s exciting times.”

Shippenburg led the entire game and used quick starts at the opening of each half to reach a 29-5 advantage. However, St. Joe’s roared back to within three at 29-26 late in the game.

“We got the head start, 10-0, and we sort of fell apart at the end of the first half, and St. Joe’s got back into it a bit,” said McGuire. “In the second half we came out real strong again, scored two tries in the beginning of the half and another to go up 29-5. We were pumped, we thought we had the game in the bag, and we sort of had a big let down.”

Center Brian Hay, with just one minute left on the clock, put the game away for good, scoring a breakaway try to give the Raiders the 36-24 lead they’d end the game with. Hay ended the game with two tries, flyhalf Jase Martin scored a hat trick for the Raiders and wing Kyle Perkins added a try of his own. But Perkins’ biggest contribution was perhaps the trio of balls he grounded in the Shippensburg try zone to prevent St. Joe’s tries and force 22-meter dropouts.

Shippensburg ends its league campaign with a record of 3-0-1, the tie coming against second-place Temple. The Raiders draw the champions of the Empire Conference in the round of 16, to determined by a four-team spring playoff between St. Bonaventure, Binghamton, Iona and Stony Brook.