By Jim O'Hara
Hawks (4-5, 0-3 GSC) vs. West Georgia (3-5, 1-3 GSC)
Saturday, Nov. 3 • 2 pm ET • Carrollton, Ga.
ROME -- They've seen first-hand just how good three of the top teams are in one of the nation's toughest NCAA Division II football conferences.
This week, the Shorter Hawks will find out that it doesn't get any easier in the Gulf South Conference when they head to Carrollton on Saturday at 2 p.m. for their first-ever meeting against their closest GSC neighbor, the University of West Georgia Wolves.
"From top to bottom, the Gulf South has good, solid football teams," Shorter head coach Phil Jones said as the Hawks – now 4-5 overall and 0-3 in the GSC following a 37-6 setback to two-time national champion Valdosta State last Thursday – prepared to square off against West Georgia, that despite having 3-5 overall and 1-3 conference records turned in a major Gulf South upset two weeks ago beating a North Alabama team that had dispatched the Hawks earlier this season. "That win (over UNA) gives you a comparison of just how good they are.
That, however, hasn't stopped the Hawks from letting what has been a frustrating start to their first season as a Division II GSC program deter them in their quest to prove they can win on a higher level.
"Probably the best thing of all that comes out of it," Jones said of how the team has become even more determined to notch Shorter's first-ever GSC victory, "is that the players have continued to work and play hard. That's not easy to do when you are in the situation they're in but you hope it will continue."
"I really believe, and they believe," the coach said, "that it will and that we will win at this level."
Include West Georgia as one more benchmark Shorter will face.
Since joining the GSC in 1983 – UWG made the move to DII after winning the 1982 NCAA Division III national crown – the Wolves have developed into a perennial threat on the gridiron winning a share of three conference championships.
After guiding the Wolves to a second-place GSC finish last year, fifth-year head coach Daryl Dickey is reloading the West Georgia roster with a deep group of young and skilled athletes that are eager to put the program back on top and spoil Shorter's debut game at UWG's impressive 9,600-seat University Stadium.
The Wolves will be out to rebound from a 52-28 loss last week to Lone Star Conference power and No. 16-ranked West Texas A&M, a game that saw West Georgia break out to a 14-7 first quarter lead only to give up 24-unanswered points in the second period.
Still, West Georgia enters the showdown with the Hawks having established a potent offensive attack, one that averages 31 points and 354 yards a game, most of that coming on the ground.
"They're a two-dimensional team," Jones said of the Wolves, who average 212 rushing – West Georgia rolled up 314 yards via the run against North Alabama – and 142 passing yards each time them step on the field, "but recently they have relied heavily on running the ball."
Emerging as West Georgia offensive leader has been freshman quarterback Dallas Dickey, the son of the head coach who has been called upon to start the last three games and has produced some balanced numbers, rushing for 332 yards and seven touchdowns and passing for another 436 yards and five TDs.
"He's really added to their run game," Jones said of the Wolves' quarterback, "and they have two running backs that are very good."
Filling that dual role in the backfield, one that has combined for more than 1,000 yards, has been senior David Bailey and sophomore Seth Hensley. Bailey leads the team having rushed for 528 yards and three touchdowns while Hinsley has added another 488 yards and five scores.
Not to be overlooked is West Georgia's ability to throw the ball to a deep corps of receivers, one spearheaded by junior wideout Bobby Burum, who has 25 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns.
When the Hawks have the ball, they will go up against a West Georgia defense that despite allowing foes an average of 418 yards a game – against Texas A&M the Wolves yielded 462 yards, 344 of that via the pass – is one Jones feels is one to be reckoned with.
"Their linebackers are very active and they have a good scheme that adapts quickly to what you are doing."
Junior linebacker Bobby Liggins anchors the Wolves' defense leading the team with 55 tackles, while sophomore linebacker and former Rome High standout Teddy Lawrence has picked up where he left off last year when he was named the 2011 GSC Freshman of the Year.
In the defensive backfield, redshirt freshman Delontae Amey has been busy all over the field recording 40 tackles and junior defensive back Donovan Jackson leads the secondary with three interceptions.
Making the game against West Georgia even bigger, Jones said, is the fact that the backyard brawl between the neighboring GSC teams could become a natural rivalry.
"I think it's going to become a very good rivalry as time goes on," the Hawks coach said. "We'll probably recruit the same kind of athletes and the two schools are close to each other – it has all the makings of becoming a great rivalry."