By Jim O'Hara
Hawks (3-3) vs Ave Maria (1-2)
Saturday, Oct. 13 • 1:30 pm ET • Rome, Ga.
ROME -- As they begin the second half of their first season as an NCAA Division II team, one that closes with four huge Gulf South Conference showdowns that marks the start of a new era and rivals for the program, the Shorter Hawks fully understand what they need to do to rise to the challenges.
The plan is simple – don't take anyone for granted.
That begins on Saturday when the Hawks, who evened their record to 3-3 after an impressive non-conference victory last week putting the team back in win column, square off with another clash against a team from outside the GSC when Shorter hosts NAIA newcomer Ave Maria University at 1:30 pm at Barron Stadium.
"We want to prepare for everybody we play the same way – you have to concentrate on who you're playing," Shorter head coach Phil Jones said as the Hawks enter the game eager to maintain and further the positives they attained in last week's 35-13 decision over another new program, Point University.
"We don't try to skip ahead because that can get you in trouble," Jones added. "We needed that win (over Point) badly. They were the kind of team we expected to see – they play very hard. This week we'll see that same kind of effort. We just can't afford to look past them."
Jones and the Hawks have good reason to focus on the immediate future as Ave Maria, located in southern Florida just southeast of Fort Meyers, may not have the overall experience since the program is in its second season but they do have the size, the speed and a lot of talent.
"They've got some athletes," Jones said of the 1-2 Gyrenes, who adopted the nickname that was given to those who served as U.S. Marines – G.I. (Government Issue) Marines – during World War I and II, "and they're in an area where there are a lot of great athletes to recruit."
Under the direction of head coach Kevin Joyce; Ave Maria will be playing its fourth straight NCAA team but the first DII program when they face Shorter.
The Gyrenes, who compete as an NAIA independent, opened the season squaring off against a trio of Division III foes with mixed results, suffering lopsided losses to Birmingham Southern (61-14) and two weeks ago to Huntingdon (42-21) – they have had an extra week to prepare for the Hawks – but tasted a victory in-between the defeats by knocking off Southern Virginia, 49-30.
What has been constant, however, in Ave Maria's last two outings against Southern Virginia and Huntingdon is that the Gyrenes proved they could certainly move the football. In the team's lone win, Ave Maria exploded for 623 yards in total offense – 381 on the ground and 242 through the air – and showed they refuse to quit scoring 21 second-half points against Huntingdon.
"There's a lot of balance in their offense," Jones said about the Gyrenes' attack, which averages 266 yards via the run and 216 passing yards, "and that can be tough on defenses."
For the second straight week, the Hawks will have to be on guard to defend against a triple threat at quarterback as the Gyrenes have gotten production from three players who line up behind center.
Patrick Parrilli gave Ave Maria a solid performance against Huntingdon when he competed 13 of 24 passes for 171 yards and a TD, but Drake Southerland and Matt Novak have also seen action at the position and have combined to throw for more than 470 yards and four touchdowns.
Not surprisingly, the Gyrenes have made the most of a deep and talented corps of receivers as 17 different players have recorded catches, with Travis Makauskas leading the pack with eight grabs for 95 yards and a touchdown while Chris Fahy is a deep threat have just four receptions but totaling 142 yards and two of the catches going all the way for TDs.
Balancing the passing game with the run has been Lazaro Herrara, who is averaging a rock-solid 134 yards a game and has two touchdowns in just two games, with a 140-yard output coming against Southern Virginia and a 129-yard game against Huntingdon.
"They have good size and have the speed," Jones said.
Size and speed is aplenty on the defensive side of the ball for the Gyrenes, who yield 218 rushing yards and 180 passing yards a game and work out of a 4-3 base defense.
Gage Hayes and T.J. Montgomery anchor Ave Maria's secondary, each having a pair of interceptions, while Zechariah Flick leads the team with 31 tackles and Tanner Bowling has added 21 tackles, four of those for losses.
"They're well-coached, you can see that," said Jones. "They move around a lot and mix up the coverage, and they are very physical."
Being physical was the case against Point, one of the hardest-hitting games Shorter has had this season and one that despite the bumps and bruises gave the Hawks the momentum they seek this time of year.
"Offensively, we did the things you've got to do and the offensive line really took over in the second half," Jones said, "and defensively we adjusted to what they were doing and got after it."
"We've got to do it even better this week."