MARS HILL, N.C. — The air in the mountains of North Carolina belonged to a determined group of Hawks — make that the Shorter Hawks.
Sparked by a defense that picked off a record five passes — a record three by junior safety Jordan Shaw including a record-tying 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown — and an offense that went airborne for three first half touchdown passes, the Hawks won their second straight game of the season in as many outings Saturday afternoon when they handed the homestanding Mars Hill Lions a 27-13 non-conference defeat.
The win improves Shorter to 2-0 on the year heading into its third and final non-conference challenge next Saturday when the Hawks make what will be the program’s longest road trip ever when they head to Arlington, Texas to face nationally-ranked West Texas A&M in the Lone Star Football Festival that will be played at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the 80,000-seat AT&T stadium.
The day wound up being one of the best defensive efforts ever in Shorter’s 10-year history. In addition to the five interceptions — Willy Dorcin and Luke Wilson also got into the interception act — the Hawks also had four sacks and recovered two fumbles.
Shaw, who now has five interceptions for the year and leads the Gulf South Conference in the category, also led the team in tackles with 11. Trevaris Horton, Greg Carswell, Jevaris Jones and Howard Stephens all recorded sacks.
Offensively, Shorter did its damage in the first half as three of senior quarterback Eric Dodson’s four passes for the afternoon, all in the first two quarter, went to three different receivers as Bruce Clark, Darius Turner and Kirk Wilson each hauled in a scoring toss.
Dodson, whose three TD passes gives him the all-time record for career scoring passes with 15, threw for 91 yards.
Shorter’s defense made its opening statement on Mars Hill’s first series of the afternoon, one that took them to the SU three-yard line. But on a second and goal situation, Lions quarterback Trent Miller found himself under pressure, lofted a pass to his right where Dorcin tipped the ball into the air and into the hands of Shaw, who although two-yards deep in his own end zone took off the other way and sprinted the length of the field for the touchdown with 5:08 left in the opening period. Troy Postell added the first of three extra points.
Less than three minutes later, the Hawks got the ball back when Wesley Clay scooped up a Lions fumble, set the offense up at the Mars Hill 37 and four plays later — a 24-yard pass from Dodson to Devin Helvie started the drive — Dodson found Clark open in the end zone where the 6-foot-5 end hauled in the pass for the TD to give the Hawks a 13-0 advantage.
The second quarter saw the Hawks continue to control the game on both sides of the ball.
Following an interception by Dorcin that gave Shorter the ball at the Mars Hill 28, the Hawks capitalized on the turnover as Dodson looked deep to the left side of the end zone where Turner hauled in a 24-yard scoring pass with 8:44 to go in the half.
Still, however, Shorter was not done. Following a Mars Hill punt, the Hawks mounted a 58-yard touchdown drive and capped it off once again via the air as Dodson connected with Wilson, who found himself all alone to score with 3:03 left until the break and give Shorter a commanding 27-0 lead.
Shaw assured Shorter would keep that edge in the final minutes when he picked off his third pass of the first half, setting a single-game record.
Mars Hill regrouped after the intermission and on the opening series of the second half, the Lions put together a 51-yard scoring drives, taking 12 plays to reach the end zone for the first time when Miller hit Dimitri Holmes for a 7-yard touchdown. Tyler Stewart connected for the extra point.
The Lions continued to cut into the Hawks’ lead when the home team opened the fourth quarter capping a 6-play, 60-yard march that ended when Jeremy Hughes reached paydirt from two yards out and after the PAT missed its mark Shorter’s advantage was at 27-13.
Mars Hill threatened to cut into the margin even more the next time they touched the ball, moving for what appeared to be an 80-yard scoring drives but on a third and goal situation at the Shorter 2, the Hawks stood their ground and forced a fumble that was recovered by Carswell with just under nine minutes to play.
With under three minutes to go, the Hawks’ defense came with yet another takeaway, this time coming in the form of Shorter’s fifth interception when junior linebacker Luke Wilson went airborne to snare the errant pass at the Shorter 18 and returned in to the Hawks’ 37 with under five minutes remaining.
Mars Hill managed to finally strike for another touchdown with 1:55 left to play when the Lions mounted an 8-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard scoring pass from Matt Layman to Holmes that left Shorter with a 27-20 lead, but after they recovered an on-sides kick the Hawks ran the clock out to seal the win.