After two relatively breezy beginners to the Georgetown College football season, Saturday’s Mid-South Conference opener against Faulkner University took on a more ominous, challenging tone in only two snaps from scrimmage.
Tigers’ quarterback Drew Hartz seemingly had Dillon Warren open deep down the middle to start the game, but Eagles’ defensive back Elliott Shorter didn’t bite on the play action and broke up the throw. Faulkner’s Samaj Washington then flattened running back Isaiah Cobb for no gain on the next play.
Fueled by four takeaways from the GC defense, the No. 10 Tigers nickel-and-dimed their way to a 23-13 victory but were stretched and occasionally frustrated for the first time.
“I think we’re good,” GC coach Chris Oliver said. “I don’t know if we’re a great football team yet, but I think we’re good, and I think we beat a good football team in Faulkner, and I’m happy we got it done.”
Fumble recoveries by Chad Holleran, Zyan Bethel and Jacob Harmon, Payton Standifer’s tip-drill interception and 3½ tackles for loss by All-American pass rusher DJ White put Georgetown (3-0) on a short field for much of the afternoon.
Faulkner (1-2) didn’t pick up its initial first down until the final play of the first quarter.
“We were plus-two in the turnover category,” Oliver said. “When you have four defensive takeaways, that’s gonna help you win games, and those guys played outstanding.”
The Tigers cashed in all 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 off the foot of Chris Cline.
GC also missed its shortest field goal try, and three sacks, two interceptions, 75 yards worth of penalties and 5-for-15 efficiency on third down all conspired to keep the offense under wraps.
Darius Neal (15 carries, 58 yards) was essentially the extent of the Tigers’ running game. His ability to drag tacklers and move the chains allowed Georgetown to run out the clock.
“We just left a lot of plays out there,” Oliver said. “They play a lot of what’s a called a Bear defense where they’re gonna put a d-lineman on almost every offensive lineman just about every play of the game. So they’re committed to stopping the run, and then they roll down their safeties all day.”
Cline started his productive day with a 60-yard punt after GC’s opening three-and-out, pinning Faulkner at his own 8-yard line. The Tigers punched the ball out of John Bolton’s grasp and into the hands of Holleran on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage.
JaMichael Morgan threw Cobb for a loss to help Faulkner regain his footing, and two incomplete passes forced Georgetown to call on Cline for the lead with just over two minutes elapsed.
White made a stop on third-and-1 to stifle Faulkner’s first full series. After inheriting the ball near midfield on the punt, GC freshman quarterback Gehrig Slunaker connected with Cobb for 11 yards and Maggard for 27 to put the Tigers back in the red zone.
Again, Faulkner buckled down, and Cline split the uprights a second time to make it 6-0 with 7:48 remaining in the opening quarter.
“I think they went into the game questioning whether we could throw the ball over the top, and we didn’t do it as well as we should have,” Oliver said. “We made a few plays down the field, but we didn’t run the ball great, and we didn’t make enough of those consistent big plays over the top.”
Standifer’s stick-tuitive play near midfield started the second quarter in style and ignited the Tigers’ first touchdown march.
Josh Gary, Cobb and Neal all had key short-range catches from Hartz (16-for-25, 229 yards) on the drive. On third-and-8 from the 15, Hartz sidestepped the rush and found Maggard in the back of the end zone for a 13-0 with 10:36 left in the half.
GC tallied three more after the Tigers popped the ball out of Kaleb Jones’ fingers and at the feet of Bethel on the Faulkner 30. Slunaker promptly connected with Gary to get the Tigers into field goal range, but the ground game was stymied from there, and a third-down throw fell incomplete.
Faulkner went the distance and got on the board with the help of a 27-yard strike from Raequan Beal to Jaiveyon Tucker, followed by a GC personal foul on the next play.
The Eagles’ other QB, Ben Anderson, fired an 11-yard TD pass to Shaun Vincent with three minutes left.
Propelled by Warren’s 42-yard kick return, GC answered quickly. Hartz hits Maggard for 19 yards and JC Shegog for 21 ahead of Maggard’s second scoring grab on a post pattern for a 23-6 halftime lead.