ROME, Ga. — In the first three games of the season, the Shorter Hawks have had their share of woes coming up with a complete game, finding the yards and the points hard to come by in the second half.
This time, however, they saved the best for last.
In their Gulf South Conference opener Thursday night at Barron Stadium, the Hawks rallied from a halftime deficit – the first time Shorter has trailed at the break this year – to turn in their best outing in the final 30 minutes and hand the Mississippi College Choctaws a 27-14 defeat.
“We didn’t come out like we needed to,” Shorter head coach Phil Jones said as the win improves the Hawks to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference heading into another Thursday night GSC game next week when they head to Cleveland, Miss., to take on nationally-ranked Delta State.
“But I was proud of the way the guys played in the second half,” the coach said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Shorter ended the night with its best offensive output of the season, rolling up 416 total offensive yards with a season-high 365 yards coming on the ground as the Hawks turned in a balanced ground attack.
Sophomore fullback B.J. McCoy paced the Hawks rushing for a game-high 94 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown; freshman Aaron Bryant – Shorter’s third-string quarterback – saw action at slotback where he gained 82 yards on just five totes and a TD; senior quarterback Eric Dodson added 66 yards on 13 carries; and freshman slotback Frank Griffin had his best game of his young career carrying the ball nine times for 61 yards.
“We got some young backs who are good players,” Jones said, noting that the team had been toying at moving Bryant to a new position over the past two weeks. “(Bryant’s) a natural runner.”
While Shorter’s offense was finding its groove, the Hawks’ defense ended the night giving up just 259 total yards to the Choctaws, most of those yards coming on the two scoring drives MC mounted at the start of the first and third quarters, and senior placekicker Kenny Langford continued to produce as he provided a pair of field goals.
After the Hawks came away empty-handed on the game’s opening drive, when a 48-yard field goal try by Langford fell short, Mississippi College responded with a seven-play, 69 yards drive, highlighted by 42-yard keeper by quarterback Kyle Smith and ended when Smith broke into the end zone from a yard out. Tyler Poe converted the extra point to give the visitors the lead.
Shorter answered on their next series when the Hawks, sparked by a 31-yard pass from Dodson to Bryant, put the points on the scoreboard when Langford split the uprights from 20 yards out in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
The Hawks got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff when Langford recovered a fumble by the Choctaws and Shorter converted the turnover into three more points, driving the ball 45 yards down the field where Langford nailed a 32-yard field goal midway with just over seven minutes left in the half to pull to within a point, 7-6, that stood at halftime.
The deficit marked the first time this season the Hawks trailed at the half, but opened the door for what would become their best second-half performance as they tripled the number of points they’ve scored all year in final 30 minutes.
Thanks to a MC fumble that was recovered by Willy Dorcin on the second play of the second half, Shorter capitalized on the turnover marching 42 yards to score when McCoy broke into the end zone from five yards out and following Langford’s PAT the Hawks took the lead for the first time, 13-7.
That lead, however, wouldn’t last long as the Choctaws struck on their second play of the following series as Smith found Jaime Harris alone deep down the middle for a 62-yard touchdown pass that put MC back in front, 14-13.
The two teams swapped possession for the rest of the third period, but at the start of the final quarter the Hawks broke the game open.
After fielding a punt at their own 45 in the final minutes of the third quarter, the Hawks put together a six play, 55-yard drive in which Dodson covered the final 35 yards breaking open into the end zone and give his team a 20-14 advantage less than a minute into the final stanza.
Three minutes later, after Shorter’s defense stood their ground of a fourth down play at their own 31, the Hawks struck for the final time when Bryant found an opening on the left side and sprinted 67-yards for his first career touchdown.
The Hawks threatened to add to their lead in the final minute marching down to the Choctaws’ 1, but fumbled the ball away with 27 seconds to go. The turnover, however, came too late for the visitors.
In addition to establishing new season highs of rushing and total yards, the Hawks also held on to the ball for a season-high 38 minutes, 15 seconds, while Dorcin finished the game adding an interception – the team’s 11th of the season – to his fumble recovery.
Still, the Hawks clearly understand that the road ahead of them doesn’t get any easier. In addition to next week’s GSC-TV Game of the Week showdown on ESPN3 with Delta State, Shorter will face No. 22-ranked West Alabama at Barron on Thursday, Oct. 16 in another GSC-TV Game of the Week.
And also still ahead includes clashes with Valdosta State, Florida Tech, No. 5 North Alabama and West Georgia.
“We all are aware of what’s in front of us,” Jones said. “We have to work to keep getting better.”