Turnovers plague Hawks

Published 6:43 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

MURFREESBORO – It all turned on 10 points in 30 seconds.

When it was over, Albany State had spoiled Chowan’s special Thursday night season-opener, 36-21.

And it basically came down to miscues.

With the game tied 14-14 in the second quarter and the scrappy Hawks holding their own better than expected against the pre-season Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference favorites, two fumbles led to a field goal and a touchdown and Chowan could never quite catch back up.

“You don’t turn the ball over six times and give up ten sacks (it was actually just half that many, five) and expect to be successful against the 19th ranked team in the country,” said a frustrated Chowan coach Tim Place after the game. “Nothing against Albany State, but we left a lot of opportunities on the field and that hurts.”

Indeed, the visiting Golden Rams only had 21 more yards rushing (73-to-52) and five more yards passing (210-to-205) than the home team, but it was the turnovers that killed the Hawks.

Pre-season first-team All-CIAA selection, Chowan senior quarterback C.J. Westler, tossed three touchdowns on the night; but unfortunately, he also threw three interceptions.

Newcomer Kevin Robledo (Napa, Cal./Santa Rosa JC) had an outstanding game, finishing with 108 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns. Kjuan Hollman finished with three catches and the other Chowan touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Elliott Smalls (SE Raleigh HS) delighted the crowd of over 400 with a 30-yard scamper midway thru the fourth quarter. Defensively, Brad Cash and Andrae Deweese had four tackles apiece while senior Greg Palmer had the Hawks’ lone sack.

Demetrius Johnson scored four times for the Golden Rams with two touchdown catches and a pair of short runs for scores. Johnson finished with 86 total yards.

“I thought we did some good things at times,” added Place. “But at other times I thought we were our own worst enemy and that’s something we can’t be pleased with.”

The Hawks’ six turnovers accounted for 24 Albany State points and pretty much turned the game in the Golden Rams’ favor.

Chowan got on the board first seven minutes into the game on their second drive after a short Rams punt put the Hawks in good field position at their own 40 yard line. Westler hit Kevin Hodrick in the flat for a 12-yard gain just across midfield and two plays later Westler found Robledo across the seam and he out-ran defenders into the end zone for the night’s first score.

Albany State came right back from that 7-0 deficit to tie the game on Johnson’s first touchdown catch, a 12-yarder from Rams quarterback A.J. McKenna, to make it 7-7 after the first quarter.

In the second stanza, Anthony Baker fumbled for the Rams at his own 18 after a hit by James Brown. Jackey Moore recovered the loose pigskin and the Hawks were in business.

However, Chowan lost yardage back to the 21-yard line and senior kicker Corey Cline came on for a field goal attempt. The snap was low and briefly bobbled by Westler (the holder), but the Ohio senior alertly scrambled to his right and spotted a wide-open Holman in the end zone for a scoring grab and Chowan re-took the lead, 14-7.

Albany State then went 59 yards in five plays to tie the score at 14 and that’s where it began to unravel.

On Chowan’s next drive, Westler fumbled deep in his own territory and Albany State was set up first-and-goal at the Hawks’ 10-yard line. Chowan’s defense held the Rams to a field goal, 17-14, with under six minutes to halftime.

On the first play after the kickoff, Chowan fumbled again in the red zone and this time it took McKenna just two plays to find Johnson in the end zone again and give Albany State a 10-point lead after tacking on the extra point, 24-14. Both scores came in just 30 seconds of game action.

Five minutes into the second half, Chowan started their second drive and Westler was intercepted again, this time at the one-yard line. A quick handoff to Johnson and Albany State had a 30-14 lead despite missing the extra-point.

Chowan then drove 55 yards to the Albany State 30 yard line, but another interception killed that threat and the Golden Rams turned another turnover into gold as they scored for the final time on the night to lead it, 36-14.

As Albany State played ball-control the rest of the way, Chowan was able to mount a 39-yard drive with three-and-a-half minutes to play and the Hawks put up their final score of the night in dramatic fashion as Westler hooked up with Robledo for his second score of the night as time expired. The point-after with no time left on the clock made for the 15-point final.

“We’ll get better,” said a determined Place. “Last year we lost our opener 55-3 to a team (Elizabeth City State) that played for the conference championship. This year we had a chance to upset the 19th-ranked team in the country and we beat ourselves. That’s what’s painful.”

Chowan is on the road next weekend (Saturday, Sept. 5) at Norfolk’s Foreman Field where they will be the first-ever opponent for new NCAA-FCS member, Old Dominion. Game time is 6 p.m.