By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- The game marks the first time this season that the Football Hawks will play on their home field, albeit against an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision program -- the first time Rome and Historic Barron Stadium has hosted a Division I football institution.
Not only is it Shorter's long awaited 2012 home opener, but Saturday also signifies Homecoming for the university.
With that in mind, Shorter head football coach Phil Jones and his Hawks fully understand that they will have their hands full for the fourth straight week as the NCAA Division I FCS Charleston Southern Buccaneers come to Rome Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff just one week after facing a Big Ten team on the road.
"It's strange to watch them playing on a Big Ten field last week knowing that they are playing here this week," Jones said as his Hawks (2-1) await the arrival of the Buccaneers, a member of the FCS Big South Conference that dropped a 44-0 decision last week to Illinois.
"They're struggling a little right now," the coach said about CSU, "but I'm sure that (a Division II team) would excite them."
"It's a big challenge for us regardless of what their record is. They are a fully-scholarshipped Division I FCS team." And one, Jones quickly adds, that has a considerable size advantage over the Hawks. "What jumps out right away is their size. They're incredibly big on both sides of the ball," he said about Southern, who's offensive and defensive lines average close to 300 pounds. "The size factor will be big in the game and that's what we've had to face every time we've played."
Despite an 0-3 start against a brutal schedule to open 2012, the Buccaneers are no strangers to winning. Under the direction of head coach Jay Mills, CSU rolled up the most victories in the Big South from 2005-09 and is geared to getting back to the win column behind a talented group of underclassmen.
Still, the team from South Carolina has had its share of obstacles. Against the Illini, Charleston Southern – the Bucs opened the year losing to The Citadel 49-14 and Jacksonville 31-10 – could only amass six first downs and 120 total yards, while running an option attack that averages 112 yards on the ground and 132 passing yards a game.
Three quarterbacks have emerged as a trio of threats the Buccaneers can use. Juniors Derek Hatcher and Malcolm Dixon have combined to throw for nearly 400 yards this season, while freshman Briar Van Brunt showed his ability to break free when he exploded for a 54-yard run against Illinois, the longest rush this season for the Bucs.
The Buccaneer defense also found a silver lining in the Illinois cloud when senior cornerback Charles James recorded his 11th career interception to match school record. They also got two strong performances from junior defensive back Elijah Lee and freshman linebacker Zack Johnson, the team's top tacklers.
"They run a version of the triple option but from a shotgun and defensively they are very active." Jones pointed out. "The team is coached well and they know what to do. We've got to rely on our quickness, our speed and out aggressiveness."
Those factors combined to put the Hawks back into the win column last week when Shorter – SU's other victory was a season opening win over Division I FCS Campbell – exploded for 21-unswered points to down Division II foe Chowan 28-17 in Murfreesboro, N.C.
Down 17-7 at the half, the Hawks use the proverbial "big play" to take control of the game, using a 70-yard touchdown run by senior fullback T.J. Telfair and a 63-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Eric Dodson to senior Brandon Morten to give Shorter a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, then added an insurance TD on the second play of the final period when the SU defensive pressure resulted in an interception by senior Kendall Lacy in the end zone.
Shorter also wound up forcing six fumbles and pouncing on three of them, and when the Hawks had the ball they gained a well-balanced 299 total yards, 180 on the ground and 119 passing via the arm of Dodson, who also threw a 49-yard scoring strike to Kirk Wilson.
Josh White led Shorter's defense with nine tackles, Demery Hawkins added eight tackles including 2.5 hits for losses, Luke Wilson had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble, and Jamal Denson and DeRhyan Arnold a sack each.
"The kids just kept playing. They do care about each other," Jones said about how united the team has become having stood their ground on the road for the last three weeks and are ready to show just how determined they are in front of their fans at home.
"It's an exciting time for our team, our school and for our fans," he said. "We're glad to be home but it will be a challenge for us."
Fans who cannot make it out to Barron Stadium have several opportunities to catch the action. Live video with audio provided by 95.7 The Ridge will be available on SUTV at http://www.shorter.edu/sutv/. As always, the live broadcast is available by tuning into 95.7 WATG-FM The Ridge or by accessing the live webcast link via the Shorter Athletics webpage.
Coverage begins at noon with "Hawk Talk" followed by "The Phil Jones Show" at 12:30 pm. Pregame coverage from the stadium begins at 1 pm.