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Hawks fall in CIAA home opener

MURFREESBORO – Sometimes you can take the school bully’s best shot and keep on fighting when you realize they’re not as tough as you may have heard.

That was figuratively the case Saturday night at Garrison Stadium where Chowan fell to Virginia Union University in Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association play, 51-28, but for a match-up against one of the CIAA’s top pre-season contenders the Hawks validated themselves quite well.

The Panthers’ conference-leading defense had only allowed six scores for the 15 previous times opponents had penetrated the red-zone. Chowan made it inside the VUU 20-yardline on their first series, and it was the only trip there where the Hawks did not score.

Thanks to a 21-point second half effort, Chowan was within two points of the Panthers with just under 12 minutes to play before VUU got three late touchdowns in the final four minutes to salt away the win.

“When you come up on the short end after the effort our staff and our kids made,” said a disappointed coach Tim Place after the game, “it’s like getting punched in the stomach. But if we start to understand what it takes to be successful we’re going to be okay.”

With the Panthers blitzing on almost every snap with a relentless pass rush, Chowan junior quarterback C.J. Westler put up 271 passing yards on 47 attempts and threw for three touchdowns. Freshman receiver Victor Davis went over the century mark with 105 yards receiving and a touchdown, while senior James Fox had 85 yards and a scoring catch and junior Eddie Coard rounded out the touchdown grabs with 32-yards on four catches.

Freshman J.J. Spates rounded out the scoring with a three-yard run for a touchdown.

“The offensive line did a real good job,” said Westler. “We had a great game plan and we executed it very well until the end. We’re a young team.”

The Hawks defense was active as well as they forced seven VUU fumbles, five of which Chowan recovered. Sophomore linebacker Jeremy Bednarz-Gray recovered one of the loose balls, and was the Hawks’ second-leading tackler on the night with seven, while Brendon Scott led the team with 11 tackles.

“The coaches prepared us well,” said Bednarz-Gray afterward, “practicing tackling drills and strip drills and for the first half we were in there, but our youth showed in the second half.”

On their first series of the game Chowan drove to the VUU 13-yardline thanks to two quick strikes from Westler to Fox, but on third-and-five from the 15, Westler was dropped for the first of five sacks on the night, and his fourth-down pass sailed over Coard’s head.

Chowan’s next series produced Union’s first score: backed up to their own 18-yardline a bad snap on fourth down sailed over punter Phil Koch’s head for a safety and a 2-0 VUU lead which held thru the first quarter.

The Hawks’ first possession of the second quarter took them across mid-field to the Union 44, but on second-and-10, Hurley Hemphill crashed the Chowan line for a sack of Westler, then scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 44 yards for VUU’s first touchdown and a 9-0 lead.

On Union’s next series, Panther runner Lamar Little fumbled when hit by Chowan’s Greg Palmer and Bednarz-Gray recovered at the VUU 44. Westler then hit Fox for a 42-yard gain and two plays later Spates found the endzone and Chowan trailed 9-7.

Trailing 16-7 in the third quarter Chowan began their comeback thanks to another Union turnover as Jomo Brown recovered a fumble on the Chowan 15. The Hawks then marched 85 yards on nine plays capped by Westler’s strike to Fox from nine yards out to pull them within two at 16-14.

Union’s lead ballooned to 30-14 before Chowan took advantage of another Panther turnover deep in their own territory and turned it into six more points when Westler found Coard in the back of the end-zone to make it 30-21. VUU fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and it took Chowan just four plays before Westler tossed his third scoring strike on the night this time to Davis and Chowan had trimmed the lead to just two again at 30-28.

But that was as close as the Hawks came as VUU scored on their next three drives to ice the game for their second league win of the year and keeping Chowan winless in CIAA play at 0-4.

“The longer we go,” said Westler, “the more and more people are getting comfortable (with the offense) and I think things are starting to click.”

“We gotta get better in the trenches,” said Bednarz-Gray. “It’s never over, we just gotta keep having faith in ourselves and keep preparing every week.”

“Our kids played hard,” said Place. “We just have to become consistent, tomorrow’s a new day and we’ll just continue to get better.”

Chowan (1-4, 0-2,CIAA) now moves into its five remaining CIAA Western Division games beginning Saturday at Fayetteville State.

They return to Garrison Stadium October 11 for their final home game of the year against Livingstone College with a 6 p.m. kickoff.