By Jim O'Hara
MURFREESBORO, N.C. -- Having seen what holding on to the football and not hanging on to it produces, the Shorter University football team is bound and determined to get back to protecting the pigskin.
Saturday, Shorter will play their third straight road game to start the season in their first season as an NCAA Division II program.
Coming off a heartbreaking 17-14 loss to Newberry last week, one that saw Shorter fumble seven times, the Hawks (1-1) are well aware that they can ill-afford turnovers this week when they head to Murfreesboro, N.C., to square off with Chowan University at 6 pm.
"It was the absolute opposite of how we played in the first game," Shorter head coach Phil Jones said about the miscues against Newberry that led to three turnovers, including one that set up the winning touchdown. "Ball security – it's a huge factor. We've got to get that done. We can move the football. (Against Newberry) we had a great chance to win the game, but we just shot ourselves in the foot.
"We just can't do that this week. Chowan is a much-improved football team. Our hands are full again and it will be that way every week."
Chowan's Hawks (1-1) return home to host Shorter fresh from having suffered their first loss of the season as well, a 24-14 loss in Lexington, Va., to NCAA Division I FCS foe Virginia Military Institute. Like Shorter, Chowan has opened the season putting up some strong offensive performances.
Chowan's opener was indeed an eye-opener when it comes to rolling up the yards and the points. In CU's first game of the season, head coach Tim Place's Hawks raced to a 70-35 win over Livingstone amassing a gaudy 650 yards in total offense. Leading the way was sophomore quarterback Cameron Stover, who has certainly grabbed the attention of the Shorter coaching staff.
Against Livingstone, Stover completed 28 of 30 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns, and added 106 more yards and a touchdown on the ground. Last week against VMI, Stover remained on top of his game completing 28 of his 51 passes for 246 yards.
"He's very good," Jones said of Stover. "They run a spread offense and he spreads the ball around."
Making Stover a viable threat is a balanced corps of receivers. Against Livingstone, senior Robert Holland led Chowan with 13 receptions for 213 yards and three TDs, while last week freshman Damian Ellis paced the Hawks with eight catches for 77 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior defensive back Devahn Murphy, who had an 83-yard interception return for a TD against VMI, heads up a solid and active secondary, while junior T.J. Batcheler has emerged as a keystone for Chowan at middle linebacker.
"When you score 70 points, that's pretty dynamic," Jones said of Chowan, "and defensively they pressure you hard. They have recruited some very good talent."
Defensive talent is what Shorter's Hawks have shown, including a stiff performance against Newberry, giving up just over 200 rushing and 100 passing yards. Led by All-American linebacker Demery Hawkins, who had a team-high nine tackles last week, the Hawks stood their ground three times in the red zone, including a goal-line stand on Newberry's first series of the second half.
Lost in the fumble issues at Newberry was the fact that when Shorter had the ball, the Hawks knew what to do with it, amassing more than 380 yards in total offense with the bulk of that coming via 310 yards on the ground.
"That in itself is a good omen for us, especially knowing we were outweighed up front," Jones said about Shorter's balanced rushing attack in which junior fullback Bradley Moon led the Hawks with 128 yards on 20 carries and a pair of touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Eric Dodson added 73 yards on 15 totes.
"The team played their hearts out again," said Jones, "and they had another very good effort. If we can keep them locked in to the kind of intensity they've played with, we'll be fine."