After two relatively breezy starts to the Georgetown College football season, Saturday’s Mid-South Conference opener against Faulkner University took on a more tense, challenging tone than it has seen in two seasons.
Tigers quarterback Drew Harts appeared to have Dillon Warren open under center to start the game, but Eagles quarterback Elliott Shorter didn’t bite the play and broke up the throw. Faulkner’s Samaj Washington then hit running back Isaiah Cobb for no gain on the next play.
Spurred by four takeaways from the GC defense, the No. 10 Tigers nickel-and-dimed their way to a 23-13 victory, but were rarely upset for the first time.
“I think we’re good,” GC coach Chris Oliver said. “I don’t know if we’re a good football team yet, but I think we’re good, and I think we beat a good football team in Faulkner, and I’m glad we did that.”
A fumble recovery by Chad Holleran, Zian Bethel and Jacob Harmon, Peyton Standifer’s tip-drill interception and 3½ fumbles by All-American pass rusher DJ White capped Georgetown (3-0) for much of the afternoon.
Faulkner (1-2) didn’t pick up a first down until the final play of the first quarter.
“We were plus-two in the turnover category,” Oliver said. “When you have four defenses, it helps you win games and those guys played well.”
The Tigers scored all of their points before halftime on touchdown passes of 15 and 27 yards from Hartz to Aaron Maggard and field goals of 28, 32 and 26 yards from Chris Klein.
GC also missed the shortest field goal attempt, and three sacks, two interceptions, a 75-yard penalty and a 5-for-15 performance on third down conspired to stymie the offense.
Darius Neal (15 carries, 58 yards) was basically the size of the Tigers’ running game. His ability to pull tacklers and move the chains allowed Georgetown to run out the clock.
“We left a lot of plays out there,” Oliver said. “They play a lot of bear defense, where they put D-Leaman on every offensive lineman on every play. So they’re determined to stop the run, and roll their safes all day.
Cline started his productive day with a 60-yard punt after GC went three-and-out, pinning Faulkner at his own 8-yard line. The Tigers punched the ball out of John Bolton’s hands and were shot over by Holleran on the Eagles’ first play.
JaMichael Morgan threw Cobb for a loss, allowing Faulkner to recover his feet, and two incomplete passes forced Georgetown to take the lead with just over two minutes left.
White made a stop on third-and-1 to snuff out Faulkner’s first complete run of the series. After receiving the ball near midfield on a punt, GC freshman Gehrig Slunaker connected with Cobb for 11 yards and Maggard for 27 to get the Tigers back into the red zone.
Again, Faulkner went down, and Klein was split for the second straight time to make it 6-0 with 7:48 left in the opening quarter.
“I think they came into the game asking if we could throw the ball up high, and we didn’t do it as well as we should have,” Oliver said. We made a few plays at home, but we didn’t run the ball well and we couldn’t make those big plays over the top.
Standifer’s stick play at midfield started the second quarter in style, sparking the Tigers’ first touchdown drive.
Josh Gary, Cobb and Neal all had key short-yardage catches for Hartz (16-for-25, 229 yards). On third-and-8 from the 15, Hartz turned the rush aside and found Maggard in the back of the end zone for a 13-0 run with 10:36 left in the half.
GC scored three more after the Tigers fumbled the ball off the fingers of Caleb Jones and the feet of Bethel at the Faulkner 30. Slunaker immediately connected with Gary to get the Tigers into the field, but the game took off from there. And the third-down throw fell incomplete.
Faulkner went the distance and got on the board with a 27-yard strike from Raequan Bell to Javion Tucker, leading to a GC personal foul on the next play.
The Eagles’ other QB, Ben Anderson, threw an 11-yard TD to Shaun Vincent with three minutes left.
Spurred by Warren’s 42-yard punt, GC responded quickly. Hartz hit Maggard for 19 yards and JC Shegog for 21 on a post pattern before Maggard’s second scoring drive for a 23-6 halftime lead.