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Hawks offense is soaring

More news about: Huntingdon
John Iwaniec and the Hawks have high expectations, and the offense to meet them.
Photo by Christopher Morgan Photography 

The Huntingdon football team's offense isn't fancy.

Sure, the Hawks employ a spread attack that features three or four wide receivers on most plays, like a large majority of teams across the contemporary college football landscape.

But the focus isn't on flash, nor is the offense centered around one or two dominant players. Rather, the Hawks preach the importance of execution, and a balance that gets multiple players involved.

If that sounds simple, that's because it is. But sometimes there is beauty in simplicity.

The Hawks offense has been nothing short of dominant over the course of the team's 3-0 start this season. Huntingdon ranks No. 1 nationally in total offense (638.3 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring offense (55.3 points per game). The team has scored at least 49 points in each of its three wins.

Those are gaudy numbers, to be sure, but to head coach Mike Turk and the rest of the team, it's just a byproduct of the play-by-play execution.

"I don't think you ever count on doing stuff like that," Turk said. "You're going to approach it and try to score enough points to win, and that's really what we try to do every week."

Week 1 produced 619 yards of offense in a 52-49 shootout road win against Louisiana College. Week 2 saw 538 yards in a 49-28 home win over Birmingham-Southern. Week 3 represents season highs in both yards (758) and points in a 65-21 home win against Belhaven.

The offensive scheme, according to senior running back John Iwaniec, is generally the same each week. For Huntingdon, it comes down to how the players execute the plays.

"We don't really get big-headed around here," Iwaniec said. "Every week we're going to do the same thing. We're going to go out there and do what we do, execute the plays like we do."

Iwaniec, who Turk refers to as the "heart and soul" of the offense, is a key cog. At just 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Iwaniec doesn't strike the most imposing figure on the football field, but his dedication and determination more than make up for any perceived lack of physical skill. Iwaniec has topped 100 rushing yards in each of Huntingdon's three games, and his 336 yards leads the team.

"As a coach, you always want your best players to be your hardest-working kids and your most humble guys and your most team-oriented people, and he just embodies that," Turk said. "And he's pretty good when you hand it to him, by the way. I don't want to understate that."

The engine that drives the offense is senior quarterback Luke Bailey. This season, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Bailey has already passed for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns against just one interception. He's completed nearly 67 percent of his passes, and has also added 183 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Bailey, whose name is scattered across the Huntingdon football record book, has been a productive quarterback since taking over the starting job early in his sophomore season, but he is quickly becoming a star in his senior season.

"He has complete trust in me and an offensive line that will block for him, give him enough time to throw the ball," Iwaniec said of Bailey. "I have trust in my line to block for me, wide receivers to block for us. The big thing is we just know we have guys that are going to make plays."

Senior wide receiver Nick Haas, an elite route runner with above-average hands, has been making plays since his freshman season, so it's no surprise that he's tied for the team lead with 16 receptions and leads the Hawks with four receiving touchdowns. Sophomore Otis Porter's breakout season, however, has been a pleasant surprise for the Hawks. After not catching a single pass as a freshman, Porter is currently tied with Haas with 16 receptions, while his 362 receiving yards lead the team.

Senior left guard Jordan Shelby and senior right tackle Jesse Williams anchor a reshuffled offensive line that features a pair of sophomore starters in right guard Chris Hering and center Adam Mann.

Elite offensive production is not a new theme for Huntingdon, which is in its 14th season as a Division III program. The Hawks set a Division III record in 2013 with 585.8 yards per game, a mark that has since been broken. What's different now is that the expectations for the program have changed.

The Hawks finished 10-2 last season and tallied their first NCAA postseason win with a 38-27 victory against Hendrix, but it was actually the loss in the following round that turned heads.

Huntingdon lost to perennial national championship contender Mary Hardin-Baylor 43-23, but the Hawks cut the lead to 29-23 early in the fourth quarter before the Crusaders pulled away.

"Playing that second playoff game last year really opened the eyes for a lot of our players, even me," Iwaniec said. "We really can play with these guys. That kind of boosted us into this next season, and it let us know how good we are and how good we can be."

Huntingdon will begin USA South play this weekend with a road game against N.C. Wesleyan (1-2, 0-0), a team it defeated 45-40 last season. The Hawks now have a target on their backs after winning the conference last season and entering the 2016 season as the preseason favorite.

"We're happy to be 3-0 and excited about where our team is heading into conference play, but the realization is that we haven't really done anything," Turk said.

"All you've got to do is look around every Saturday, somebody loses that wasn't supposed to lose," Turk added. "We try not to let that be us."

The bar has been raised in Montgomery, Ala., where the expectations are to produce more than just a winning record. With a highly-efficient -- and productive -- offense and a consistently improving defense, the Hawks appear to be on the right track.

"There's a lot of teams that would take 7-3," Turk said. "That's not what we're hunting."

Blue Jays hold off Mules in key CC game

Ryan Cary rushed for 100 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and Johns Hopkins' defense blanked Muhlenberg in the second half of the Blue Jays' 30-24 win this past Saturday.

The Mules led 24-20 at halftime, but were held off the scoreboard in the third and fourth quarters. Muhlenberg had its chances though. The Mules took over with 3:48 remaining at their own seven-yard line, but proceeded to string together an 11-play drive that moved them down inside the Blue Jays' 10-yard line. On second-and-goal from the six-yard line, Muhlenberg quarterback Nick Palladino was intercepted by Jack Toner in the end zone. Muhlenberg got one final last-gasp chance with less than 20 seconds remaining, but Toner again intercepted in the end zone to effectively end the game.

Palladino finished with 324 passing yards and a touchdown, while Johns Hopkins counterpart Jonathan Germano piled up 332 yards and two touchdowns (along with two interceptions). Overall, the game featured 54 first downs and some notable individual performances, including Muhlenberg running back Nick Savant (146 rushing yards, two TDs), Muhlenberg wide receiver Ryan Delaney (10 receptions, 153 yards, TD), Johns Hopkins wide receiver Brett Caggiano (five receptions, 155 yards, TD) and Johns Hopkins wide receiver Bradley Munday (nine receptions, 103 yards).

Either Johns Hopkins or Muhlenberg has earned at least a share of the Centennial Conference title every year since 2001, so this was a crucial matchup that will have major conference ramifications. The Blue Jays have the leg up moving forward.

All quiet in ODAC, USA South

Not much to report on from the ODAC or USA South because, well ... none of the teams played this past weekend.

Both leagues are set to open up conference play this coming weekend. Huntingdon (3-0) is the only USA South team to make it through non-conference play with an undefeated record. In the ODAC, Randolph-Macon, Catholic, and Guilford all stand at 3-0.

Quick hits

Dave Shellhammer rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, and Taalib Gerald added 115 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Franklin and Marshall's 45-22 win against Juniata. Kirby Breault caught nine passes for 130 yards and a score in the loss for the Eagles. ... Mike Hayes passed for 272 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and Nick Zambelli intercepted a pair of passes as Moravian defeated Dickinson 24-10. Jake Walbert finished with nine receptions for 135 yards in the defeat. ... Cameron Ott rushed for 184 yards and five touchdowns, and Chris Beals tallied nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown as Susquehanna topped Gettysburg 55-40 in a shootout. Justin Davidov passed for 274 yards and four touchdowns, and also added 129 yards and two TDs on the ground in the loss for the Bullets. ... Will Koester passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns, both to Breon Herbert, and Spencer Wiersberg kicked the go-ahead, 43-yard field goal as time expired in McDaniel's 30-27 win against Ursinus. Salvatore Bello threw for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss for the Bears.

Top 25: Johns Hopkins, Huntingdon move up

Johns Hopkins and Huntingdon each jumped two spots in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll.

The Blue Jays moved up from No. 11 to No. 9, while the Hawks rose from No. 17 to No. 15.

Guilford continued to receive votes.

Looking ahead

Juniata (3-1, 2-1) at No. 9 Johns Hopkins (4-0, 3-0), noon, Saturday: The Eagles have already matched their win total from 2015, but they will face their toughest test of the season this weekend. The Blue Jays won last season's meeting 41-5.

Catholic (3-0, 0-0) at Guilford (3-0, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Both teams swept their non-conference matchups, but only one will improve to 4-0 this weekend. Guilford gets the benefit of playing at home, but these two teams combined for 52-49 shootout in Washington, DC last season.

Other games of note: No. 15 Huntingdon (3-0, 0-0) at N.C. Wesleyan (1-2, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday; Muhlenberg (3-1, 2-1) at Susquehanna (2-2, 2-1), 1 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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