Football Drops First Contest in Big South

It came and it went. All it took was one play to make an early statement in the Hawks’ Big South opener, but lightning never strikes twice. MU’s football team (5-2, 0-1) dropped its Big South opener at Bailey Stadium in heartbreaking fashion to the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College (5-3, 2-1). The final score read 18-12.

“I thought our guys came out and played hard, it was a very tight game where the outcome was going to be changed on a play or two,” said MU head coach Kevin Callahan. “You have to give Presbyterian credit; they made some key plays at critical points that ended up being the difference in the game. I thought our defense had a great effort. As a unit they did a real good job for the most part but had some lapses towards the end of each half and that proved to be the difference in the game.”

After putting on an offensive clinic through the first six games of the season, averaging 39-points-per-game and 462-yards of total offense, the most illustrious season up to this date in the history of MU’s football program was a defensive struggle. On the first play for the Hawks, senior quarterback Brandon Hill found a streaking senior wide receiver Neal Sterling deep downfield and hit him in stride for an 81-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but the ensuing extra point attempt failed. From there, it looked as if the Hawks would continue where they left off two weeks ago against Columbia. However, as it turned out, the first half was a battle of the defenses and two of the Big South’s best punters.

Through the first half, MU’s Ryan Mohr and Presbyterian’s Stephen Doar exchanged eight punts. Mohr, who averaged 43-yards per punt, was instrumental in the first half by pinning the Blue Hose deep in their territory. However, the first half was all about the defense that held tough and stern when the Blue Hose were plowing down the field. The Hawks’ defense, who averaged 106-yards-per-game on the ground through their first six games, had their hands filled with Presbyterian’s rushing attack, one that generated 182-yards on the ground despite being undermanned after losing Demarcus Rouse during their first offensive series.

Every time the Blue Hose offense marched deep into Hawks’ territory during the first half, the defense tightened up and held their foes without a score. Presbyterian’s lone touchdown in the first half, a 6-yard run by Blake Roberts, came right before halftime after a 10-play drive for 83-yards. Junior linebacker John Sieczkowski had nine solo tackles while freshman defensive back Mike Basile contributed with eight tackles and junior linebacker Tyler Thompson added seven tackles.

The second half saw a little more offensive production for the Hawks, who started getting things going in their up-tempo offensive attack. Despite things starting to click in their favor, MU was held to a 41-yard field goal by junior Lucas Santangelo in the third quarter. A muffed punt by Doar gave MU great field position, and the opportunity to tip the game in their favor. Unfortunately for the blue and white, their shot was squandered after junior defensive back Ed Royds fumbled the ball and the Blue Hose were able to recover it on their 15 yard line. Presbyterian would put together a 13 play drive that spanned 74-yards before Brandon Morrow added a 28-yard field goal to put PC back up, 10-9, in the fourth quarter.

The Hawks would put together another good attempt, a 13-play drive that went 76-yards, before the drive stalled and Santangelo was called upon again to add a 27-yard field goal to put the Hawks up, 12-10, with 4:19 remaining in the contest. However, Presbyterian managed to drive 68-yards in eight plays with PC’s quarterback Heys McMath scoring the 15-yard go-ahead touchdown scamper up the middle with 53-seconds remaining. Presbyterian added the two-point conversion to put them up, 18-12. The Hawks needed a touchdown with just under a minute left to play, but they were unable to capitalize. On their ensuing drive, Hill’s deep heave was underthrown and intercepted by DaRon Dickey, giving the Blue Hose possession with little time left to play.

However, their drive stalled when they were unable to convert on fourth down, giving the Hawks one last crack at victory. Unfortunately, for the Hawks, a last second attempt at several laterals to find open creases to the end zone failed, and the game came to an end.

Hill finished the contest completing 18-of-33 passes for 236-yards and the game-opening touchdown strike to Sterling, who finished with 136-yards on seven receptions. The Hawks received key contributions from fifth-year senior wide receivers Thaddeus Richards, who caught two passes for 37-yards, and Lamar Davenport, who caught two passes for 22-yards. Sophomore running back Lavon Chaney was held in check, rushing for 62-yards on 19-carries while hauling in four passes for 23-yards.

“Playing the first Big South game, we knew we were in for a challenge but the good thing is that I think we showed that we belong and we can play in this league,” Callahan said. “We just need to do some things better and the outcome will be different.”

Sterling continues to make progress as he etches his name amongst the top pass-catchers in Hawks’ history. With 188-catches for his career, Sterling is seven receptions away from surpassing Adam San Miguel as the Hawks’ all-time receptions’ leader while he’s 452-yards away from passing the great Miles Austin as the all-time leader in receiving yardage. With four games remaining in the season, both accolades are realistic and within reach for him.

The Hawks will resume action on Saturday, Nov. 1 as they return home to host the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern (5-3, 0-2), a newfound Big South conference foe who dropped their contest this weekend to Coastal Carolina, 43-22. Saturday afternoon’s contest, slated for a 1 pm kickoff and will be aired on ESPN3, will mark the first home game as members of their new conference.