ROME, Ga. — A win.
That’s what the Shorter Hawks were determined to get at the start of the new season, no longer concerned about what took place a year ago when it took eight weeks before they got that cherished “W.”
And they did as the Hawks opened up the program’s 10th season and its first as a full NCAA Division II member Thursday night at Barron Stadium overcoming upset-minded Paine College that was playing their first game in more than 50 years by handing the Lions a 28-24 non-conference defeat in a game filled with penalties.
“I’m so proud of the kids they kept battling and playing hard all night,” head coach Phil Jones said after the victory, one that saw the Hawks roll up 334 of offense – 266 of that on the ground – and fight off a final threat by the Lions when junior safety Jordan Shaw picked off his second interception of the game. “(Paine) was ready to play and has a good team, but our guys responded every time.”
Senior quarterback Eric Dodson headed up the Hawks’ ground game leading all rushers with 99 yards on 14 carries, while senior slotback Kirk Wilson rushed for 83 yards on just 8 totes and sophomore fullback B.J. McCoy added 68 yards on 22 carries.
Dodson also completed 8-of-10 passes for 68 yards, spreading the wealth around as the six completions went to six different receivers.
Defensively, the Hawks turned in a solid performance as well with Shaw notching the two picks, junior Wesley Clay adding another interception he returns for an 82-yard touchdown and sophomore Trevaris Horton came up with 3.5 sacks, tying the school record for most in a game.
The yellow flags, however, flew all night long and by the time the game had ended, the two teams had rolled up 32 penalties for a combined 333 yards, with Shorter being assessed 200 yards on 18 flags.
“That’s something we have to look at when we watch the film,” Jones said. “But it’s something we simply can’t do and something we have to fix.”
The Hawks shook off a penalty on the first play of the game when they took the ball 81 yards on just six plays with Dodson covering the final 40 for the touchdown and following Troy Postell’s first of four extra points quickly grabbed a 7-0 lead with less than four minutes into the game.
Paine, however, capitalized on Shorter’s second fumble of the game, recovering the ball at the Hawks’ 38 and scoring when Kyle Issacs-Din hit Ausin Beamus for a 31-yard scoring strike and with the PAT knotted the game up with 2:21 left in the opening quarter.
That’s when the Hawks’ defense stepped up.
In the opening minutes of the second period and Paine in good field position, Clay stepped in front of one of Din’s passes at the Hawks’ 18 and raced the other way for an 82-yard “Pick 6” touchdown to give the Hawks what proved to be the lead for good, 14-7.
The Lions managed to cut into the lead when Wisdom Nzidee split the uprights for a 31-yard field goal with 6:33 remaining in the first half.
Yet the Hawks responded on their ensuing series, needing just two plays to score on a quick 75-yard march, with Wilson sprinting for a 55-yard gainer and Shorter adding another touchdown when Dodson saw his 20-yard pass into the end zone bounce off the hands of Devin Helvie and into the arms of Sean Fowler for the TD to give the home team a 21-10 lead with just under six minutes until the intermission and close out the opening half’s scoring.
The second half began with the two teams trading punts four times, with Paine eventually cashing in when the Lions started their third drive of the half at midfield and went on to score with 2:04 to go in the quarter when Loranzo Hammond found Danny Wohlgemut open in the corner of the end zone that pulled the visitors to within four, 21-17.
Again, however, the Hawks answered when, on their next series, they promptly march 75 yards on nine plays, the big play coming on a fourth-and-two situation when McCoy steamrolled his way to the first down and two plays later McCoy took the ball the final two yards right up the middle for the touchdown that gave the Hawks the 28-17 advantage with 12:23 left in the game.
Shorter had one more opportunity to increase the lead but came up short when a drive stalled deep inside of Paine’s territory and the Hawks saw a 35-yard field goal attempt go wide of its mark.
That gave the Lions new hope as Paine took over at their own 20 and proceeded to move the ball down the field – Shorter penalties again kept the drive alive – to cut the Hawks’ lead to 28-24 when Hammond hit Isiah Jenkins with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 4:35 left.
But Paine, a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, was not finished.
After the Hawks were unable to move the ball on the next series, an errant punt by Shorter set Paine up at the home team’s 35 with 2:11 to go, but two plays later the Hawks’ defense sealed the win on Shaw’s interception at the Shorter 15 and from there the Hawks ran out the clock.
The win in Shorter’s first home opener since 2006 evens the Hawks’ season-opener mark to 5-5, but now the team will turn their attention to two even bigger non-conference tests over the next two weeks.
The first comes on Saturday, Sept. 13 when Shorter heads to North Carolina to face South Atlantic Conference foe Mars Hill in a 1 p.m. contest, and then on Sept. 20 when the Hawks make the longest trip in the team’s history traveling to Arlington, Texas to face nationally-ranked West Texas A&M in the Lone Star Football Festival at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the 80,000 seat AT&T Stadium.
“It’s feels good to get the win against a good team,” Jones said, “but we still have to work harder to get better.”