CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — In the last nine games they played, a span that covered two seasons, the Shorter Hawks suffered through nine-straight defeats.
On Saturday, they tasted what victory was like — and in the biggest way ever in the history of the 11-year program — when Division II Shorter shocked Division I FCS and Ohio Valley Conference foe Southeast Missouri State 26-21 at Houck Stadium.
“This is such a great group of kids,” Shorter head coach Phil Jones said. “Throughout it all, they never, never gave up. They believed in themselves and each other.
“This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.”
The Hawks’ historic win, which improved Shorter to 1-2 heading into the start of its Gulf South Conference schedule next week, marked just the second time in seven contests they have beaten an FCS program while at the same time ended what had been SEMO’s perfect 15-0 record against non-Division I teams.
Leading the charge into the win column was what emerged as a balanced Shorter scheme on both sides of the line.
While the Hawks defense came up with a much-needed stop of the Redhawks on what appeared to be a go-ahead drive in the final minutes, the Shorter defense held its ground, that coming on what became the best offensive showing by the Hawks in two years.
By the time the final second clicked off the scoreboard, Shorter had rolled up 409 yards in total offense, 300 of that on the ground and 109 more through the air.
Heading up the run game was junior B.J. McCoy, who rushed for a career-high 159 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns, the final one a three-yard scoring run that gave the Hawks what proved to be the winning TD with just over six minutes to play.
Red-shirt freshman Kartez Carr added 71 more yards on just six carries, while sophomore quarterback Aaron Bryant had 41 yards.
Bryant also turned in a near-perfect afternoon passing the ball as be completed 6-of-8 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, that coming on an 18-yard toss to senior receiver Cody Simpson, who had three receptions for 63 yards.
The afternoon began when, for the first time this season, the Hawks’ offense came up with a scoring drive on its first series when Shorter marched 78 yards down the field on 15 plays.
A pair of 17-yard runs by Carr and Bryant highlighted the series — with Bryant taking the ball into the end zone from three yards out to give Shorter the early lead. Kenny Langford added the extra point.
The Redhawks, however, answered Shorter’s drive with their own on SEMO’s first series of the afternoon, countering with a 54-yard march of their own, tying the game when Dante Vandeven scored on a five-yard keeper.
Southeast took a 14-7 advantage early in the second quarter when SEMO once again mounted a long drive, this time going 63 yards on just five plays — Tremane McCullough’s 48 yard run was the key gainer — and with 10:09 left in the half took a 14-7 lead when Brendon Stewart scored from eight yards out.
The Hawks tied the game up on their opening series of the second half via the air and the ground.
Starting at their own 11, the Hawks used eight plays to cover the 87 yards, the big gainer a 33-yard pass from Bryant to Simpson and the final play going for 37 yards when McCoy found a hole on the left side and allowed him to reach paydirt with 9:55 left in the third quarter. Kenny Langford added the extra point create the 14-14 deadlock.
But the Redhawks countered the next time they touched the ball, putting together an 85-yard drive that culminated with a five-yard scoring run by Brendon Stewart that gave SEMO a 21-14 lead.
On its ensuring series, however, Shorter came right back and thanks to a pair of passes from Bryant to Maurice Sutton that covered 21 and 19 yards, respectively, the Hawks pulled to within one on the first play of the fourth quarter when Bryant connected with Simpson for an 18-yard scoring pass. The extra point, however, bounced off the upright, maintaining SEMO’s lead, 21-20.
That’s when Shorter’s defense dug in and when the Redhawks’ offense returned to the field, the Hawks forced the home team to punt for only the second time in the game, giving Shorter the ball back at their own 14.
From there, the Hawks methodically moved the ball down the field, covering the distance on 11 plays and ending it when McCoy broke into the end zone from three yards out giving the visitors a 26-21 lead after Shorter’s two-point conversion pass fell short.
That’s when the Shorter defense stood its ground for the last time.
Following Shorter’s go-ahead touchdown, SEMO appeared to be headed back down the field to overcome the visitor’s lead, starting at their own 10 and moving the ball to the Shorter 29 but from there the Redhawks would go no further as the Hawks forced the home team to turn the ball over on downs with 3:03 remaining.
Shorter’s offense ran the clock out from there, moving the ball deep into SEMO territory and keeping possession of the ball by converting a fourth down and inches attempt with less than a minute to play.
McCullough led SEMO (1-3) rushing for a game-high 166 yards on 18 carries, while Vandeven completed 13-of-17 passes for 104 yards. The Hawks head back on the road for the fourth straight time next week when they open the GSC slate facing Mississippi College next Saturday.