Aug. 29, 2009
Hickory, N.C. - For three quarters, the Shorter College Hawks played well enough to steal a win in their opener at NCAA Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University.
It just so happened that the first quarter hole they dug themselves was a bit too deep to climb out of.
The host Bears took advantage of a Shorter fumble and blocked field goal in the opening period to race out to a 14-0 lead and held off the Hawks' last gasp effort in the fourth quarter to escape Moretz Stadium with a 21-14 victory.
The loss drops Shorter to 0-1 on the season and with an open date next Saturday, the Hawks will have two weeks to rest and prepare for their first home game on Sept. 12, the Governor's Cup against LaGrange College.
Despite having two field goals blocked in the first half and turning the ball over three times in the game, the Hawks nearly made an improbable comeback in the opener.
Sitting on its seven point advantage late, Lenoir-Rhyne advanced into Hawks' territory and was poised to run out the clock in the waning moments, forcing Shorter to call its final timeout with 1:40 to play in the fourth quarter.
But Bears' reserve quarterback Reuben Haynes fumbled the ensuing snap, and the Hawks' Blake Ducatel pounced on the loose football to give Shorter new life at their own 34 with 1:33 remaining.
Quarterback Ben Williams found wide out Jordan Hazard for 16 yards to midfield on the first play of the drive, but the Lenoir-Rhyne defense stiffened from that point on, forcing two incompletions and a sack on the next three plays from scrimmage.
The Bears locked up the win when defensive back Michael Green picked off Williams' heave down the right sideline.
The way the night started, it was hard to imagine that the Hawks would have a chance to win in the final minutes.
Lenoir-Rhyne turned a Shorter fumble on the first play of the game into seven points almost immediately, as quarterback Justin Sanders found a wide open Jasper Thomas for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Bears up 7-0 with just 2:20 gone in the game.
After Bears' tailback Andrew Courman raced 39-yards for another Lenoir-Rhyne score with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Hawks found themselves in a 14-point trench with only 31 total yards to their credit.
That's when the Hawks went to the air to finally solve the Lenoir-Rhyne defense.
Williams, who had just two touchdown passes in all of 2008, notched a pair of scoring tosses in the second quarter to bring the Hawks back to even at 14-14 with 11:31 to play in the first half.
The junior from Marietta, Ga. first hit A.J. Cooley on an 18-yard play action pass to cut the deficit in half at 14-7 at the 13:19 mark of the second quarter, then, following a Lenoir-Rhyne three-and-out, connected with Hazard for a 58-yard score on the first play of the ensuing drive.
Lenoir-Rhyne answered with a seven-play, 57-yard drive that culminated in a Thomas one-yard plunge that proved to be the winning score with 7:43 remaining in the first stanza.
The two teams played relatively even in the second half, with neither team able to make any noise on the scoreboard.
The Hawks embarked on a 9:14 drive in the third quarter, only to have the push halted on a fourth-and-two at the Lenoir-Rhyne 13-yard line.
Daniel Hazard kept the Lenoir-Rhyne offense at bay in the second half, posting a team-high 16 tackles. Junior linebacker Garrett Hochstetler registered two interceptions and senior defensive back A.J. Baker also picked off a pass.
The Bears finished with 347 total yards to Shorter's 284, and sank the Hawks late by converting on 9 of 15 third downs.
Cooley, the NAIA's second-leading rusher in 2008, was held to 49 yards on 14 attempts. Williams rushed 19 times for 47 yards and went 5 for 11 for 115 yards with two touchdowns and one interception through the air.
Haynes led Lenoir-Rhyne with 92 rushing yards on eight attempts. Sanders threw for 92 yards and one touchdown to go along with two interceptions.