By Matt Green
CARROLLTON, Ga. -- The Shorter University football program has officially notched it's first-ever Gulf South Conference victory. And to the delight of many Hawks' supporters, the historic win came at the expense of their closest GSC rival.
Shorter sophomore quarterback Eric Dodson scrambled for a six-yard TD with nine seconds left to lift the Hawks to a 24-20 victory over the University of West Georgia on Saturday afternoon in Carrollton.
The win, Shorter's first official GSC victory that comes in the Hawks' first season as a member of arguably the toughest NCAA Division II football conference, propels Shorter to 5-5 overall and 1-3 in the GSC. West Georgia, which was hosting Shorter for the first time, falls to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in league play.
Shorter led nearly the entire way, but after falling behind 20-17 on West Georgia quarterback Dallas Dickey's third TD run of the game with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter, got a magical last gasp drive engineered by Dodson to pull out the thrilling victory.
Dodson led the Hawks 76 yards in 10 plays, converting two third and longs before capping the drive with his third rushing touchdown of the day. The Thomasville native went 3-for-8 for 62 yards on that final drive, including a clutch 34-yard strike to former West Georgia Wolf Kareem Hawkins that gave the Hawks a first down on the UWG 12 with 30 seconds to go. After a holding penalty on West Georgia corner Trenton Edwards gave Shorter a first down on the 6, Dodson took the snap, rolled left, then took off around the right end where, sprung by a block from receiver Allen Huntley, he coasted into the corner of the end zone for the game winning score.
"They won't stop," said Shorter head coach Phil Jones, whose 48th career head coaching victory came in what has now become the Hawks' biggest rivalry game. "The biggest thing is that we ask the kids to play hard and they respond every time. The Lord was in it with all of our kids."
The dramatic finish may have masked what was a dominating performance by Shorter in Carrollton.
The Hawks rushed for 218 yards paced by junior fullback Bradley Moon and his career-high 133 yards on 20 carries – his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Dodson added 54 more yards on 16 totes, including touchdown runs of 16, 5 and 6.
Dodson finished with 180 total yards of offense as he also completed 7 of 15 passes for 126 yards. Dodson's passing performance gave him 855 passing yards on the year, the best single-season total in school history.
"It starts with the guys up front selling out on every play and putting their bodies on the line to protect," said Dodson. "They protected very well today against a very good defense."
While the Hawks' offense clicked on all cylinders against the Wolves, Shorter's defense also stepped up to the challenge, holding one of the GSC's most prolific offenses to 11 points under its average while making several big plays that turned the tide of the game.
Sophomore linebacker Dominique Henfield had his best game as a collegian, making a career-high 14 tackles. He was in on a fourth down stop of West Georgia running back Seth Hinsley at the Shorter 30 midway through the second quarter – Shorter converted that turnover into Dodson's 5-yard scamper that put the Hawks ahead 14-7 with 2:15 left in the first half – and then picked off Dickey in the end zone late in the third quarter with the Hawks clinging to a 14-13 lead.
Shorter forced a second turnover when the Wolves muffed a punt at their own 6 midway through the fourth period. Troy Postell drilled a 32-yard field goal four plays later to put Shorter ahead 17-13 with 8:17 left in the game.
Despite those game changing plays by Shorter, West Georgia nearly pulled out what seemed to be an improbable victory.
Following Postell's field goal, Dickey led the Wolves on a 12-play, 62-yard drive. The venture included a fourth down completion to Bobby Burum down to the Shorter 39 and was capped by Dickey's six-yard scoring run with just under two minutes to play. It was West Georgia's first lead since Dickey snuck in from a yard out with 5:03 left in the first quarter to put the Wolves up 7-0.
But Dodson and the Hawks cut West Georgia's celebration short with a breathtaking final drive.
Unlike their three previous Gulf South Conference affairs, Shorter made the most of its scoring chances against West Georgia.
The Hawks answered West Georgia's first score with a 9-play, 65-yard drive early in the second quarter. Dodson made sure that possession ended with points when he ran 16 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:17 left in the first half.
After Dodson's second TD run put the Hawks up 14-7, Dickey drove the Wolves 83 yards in just four plays before finding pay dirt from 14 yards out. The Wolves missed the PAT allowing the Hawks to go into halftime up 14-13.
The teams played a scoreless third quarter before Postell's field goal staked Shorter the 17-13 lead and set the stage for the exciting final eight minutes.
West Georgia narrowly outgained Shorter 368-344, but the Hawks controlled the tempo of the game. Shorter held onto the football for nearly 32 minutes and kept the West Georgia defense on the field by converting on 11 of 17 third down conversions. The Hawks also stayed turnover free and committed just four penalties for a grand total of 18 yards.
Desmond Clark and Demery Hawkins finished with eight tackles apiece to bolster Henfield's defensive efforts. Freshman Laynce Sanders added to his single-season record with a sack against the Wolves, pushing his 2012 total to 8.5.
Dickey threw for 185 yards and an interception on 11 of 18 passing. Hinsley paced the Wolves on the ground with 87 yards on 17 carries.
Shorter concludes the 2012 season on Saturday, November 10 when it welcomes GSC rival Delta State to Historic Barron Stadium. Saturday's game, which is Senior Day for the Hawks, is set to kick-off at 1:30 pm.