|Linebacker Trey Hayes is the focal point of the Hawks' new-look defense
Huntington College Athletic
By Andrew Lovell
Huntingdon football head coach Mike Turk used one word on Tuesday to describe his team's season to date. Hint: it begins with an "a."
Amazing? Awesome? Astonishing? Well, not quite.
"It's been an adventure," Turk said.
The first seven weeks of the 2017 regular season have been anything but smooth for the Hawks, but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at the USA South Conference standings. Huntingdon's 28-16 home win against Maryville this past Saturday marked its sixth straight victory, four of which have come against conference opponents.
Huntingdon (6-1, 4-0) leads Averett (3-3, 3-1), Ferrum (4-2, 2-2), and LaGrange (3-4, 2-2), and already has head-to-head wins against Averett and Ferrum in hand. The Hawks' final three regular-season games come against Greensboro, Methodist, and LaGrange, three teams with a combined record of 5-14.
Huntingdon controls its own destiny; win those final three games and the Hawks will clinch a third consecutive USA South conference title and the accompanying NCAA playoff berth. The Hawks are sitting pretty right now, but that was hardly the case following a 38-24 non-conference loss to Guilford in the season opener. At that point, little looked to be in the Hawks' favor.
"It's been a weird year, to be honest with you," Turk said. "But I'm really proud of how the guys have kept hanging in there."
Graduation hit Huntingdon's roster so hard, particularly on the defensive line and across the entire offense, that the coaching staff had to institute a major personnel shift in training camp. Huntingdon, traditionally a four-man defensive front during Turk's tenure, would switch to a three-man front out of necessity. Of the 12 defensive linemen the Hawks had available for last season's first-round NCAA playoff loss to Wheaton, only two are currently still playing for the team. Growing pains were inevitable.
"It really proved to be a lot more challenging than we initially thought it would be as far as learning how to play, learning how to coach it, learning how to scheme it, and learning how to adjust it during a game," Turk said.
The gravity of the Hawks' youthfulness hit Turk even harder during the team's first overnight road trip this season for a Sept. 23 matchup with Ferrum.
"Of the 65 players that we took, 42 of them were making their first road trip ever," Turk said.
Fortunately for Turk, the 23 players with prior road-trip experience have helped the younger Hawks grow up quickly. Senior defensive backs Anthony Wood and Austin Washington have anchored the secondary, while junior linebacker Trey Hayes stands out as one of the team's premier impact players.
"Trey Hayes is as good a football player as I've ever been around," Turk said.
The unsung hero, however, has been senior defensive end Parker Allen, one of the two returners along the line. Though he has just 12 tackles in seven games, Turk said he's excelled at mentoring his younger teammates. All told, it's led to steadily improved results from the defense. After allowing 38 points in each of their first two games, the Hawks have held opponents under 20 points in their last three contests.
On offense, the Hawks haven't produced at the same level as the 2016 team. Last season's offense averaged 45.3 points and 543.9 yards per game, totals that have dipped to 33.4 and 463.9, respectively. Though the offense has been less explosive, it's been able to grind out enough points when it counts.
Junior wide receiver Otis Porter, who leads the team in receptions (35), receiving yards (773), and touchdowns (nine), has emerged as the team's top playmaker.
"He's kind of the guy that, when you look at us on film, he sticks out as a guy that is a weapon," Turk said.
Porter might be the dangerous deep threat, but the grind-it-out, heart-and-soul role is reserved for senior quarterback Chip Taylor. After spending three years as a backup, Taylor stepped into the starting role this season. A shoulder injury sidelined him for a portion of the team's second game against Birmingham-Southern and the entirety of the third game against N.C. Wesleyan, but he's returned to battle through pain to lead the streaking Hawks.
Taylor, who has thrown for 1,337 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions on 56.9 percent passing, won't appear on any Gagliardi Award watch lists, but that doesn't matter to his teammates.
"His numbers won't wow you," Turk said. "He's not a guy that you look at and go, 'Oh, dear.' He's just a good athlete that is very, very competitive. Our football team believes in him and plays hard for him. He's a great story."
A battler at quarterback, a burner at wide receiver, studs at linebacker and in the secondary, and young players across the board; it's an uncommon formula for success that, at least through mid-October, has worked for Huntingdon.
"I've always looked at it as a year-to-year kind of deal because every team really is different in a lot of ways than the previous year, even if you have a lot of players back," Turk said.
The key now, of course, is finishing the regular season on a strong note. In 2014, Huntingdon carried a 5-2 record into a late October matchup against LaGrange. The Hawks were favored, yet came up short, 24-17, in a defeat that ultimately cost them the USAC title.
"All our guys have access to the internet, so they can look at the standings and know what kind of situation we're in," Turk said. "I try to use all the information that they have access to our benefit. I challenge them pretty regularly to pay attention to what goes on in college football every weekend."
Shenandoah leads tight ODAC race
Another week, another key conference win for Shenandoah.
Hayden Bauserman passed for 446 yards and five touchdowns -- to five different players, no less -- as the Eagles defeated Bridgewater 38-20 on Saturday. The win marked the third straight for Shenandoah after wins over ODAC opponents Randolph-Macon and Emory and Henry.
With four games remaining (three against ODAC foes), Shenandoah hasn't clinched anything yet. But the Hornets (5-1, 3-0) have put themselves at the head of a crowded conference race that also includes Hampden-Sydney (4-2, 2-0), Randolph-Macon (4-2, 2-1), and Washington and Lee (4-2, 1-1).
Shenandoah's final two games of the regular season come against Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee, so don't expect any clarity on this race until mid-November.
Gettysburg's Streeter to retire after 40-plus-year career
The 2017 season will be the last for longtime Gettysburg head coach Barry Streeter.
The Bullets coach took over the program as head coach in 1978 after a three-year stint as defensive coordinator. He helped guide Gettysburg to three consecutive Centennial Conference titles from 1983-85, as well as the program's lone NCAA postseason appearance in 1985.
Streeter, who is currently the longest-tenured coach in Division III, will retire at the end of the season as the program's all-time leader in wins (he currently ranks 28th in Division III history with 195 career wins).
Alec Cobb passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Cam Johnson to lead Hampden-Sydney past Apprentice 58-28. ... Brian Mann rushed for 254 yards and five touchdowns, while Rod Smith intercepted a pair of passes in Ferrum's 34-20 win over LaGrange. ... JP Redmond rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns, and Eric Hoy added a pair of rushing scores in Randolph-Macon's 52-29 victory against Emory and Henry. ... O'Shay Carter tossed a pair of touchdowns to Bubba Craven and Xavier Brown returned a kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown as Brevard topped Methodist 41-17. ... Josh Breece rushed for 223 yards and four TDs, Collin Sherman rushed for 102 yards, and Andrew Frailer recorded a pair of sacks in Washington and Lee's 47-26 victory against Guilford. ... Donielle Totten tossed three touchdowns, including two to Trey Lancaster, and N.C. Wesleyan's defense held Greensboro to 106 yards of total offense in a lopsided 45-0 win. ... All 10 Centennial Conference teams had bye weeks this past weekend.
Top 25: Johns Hopkins moves up
Johns Hopkins climbed two spots to No. 22 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll without even playing a game. Losses by Alfred and Wabash allowed the Blue Jays to move up in the rankings.
Ursinus (one vote) joined Johns Hopkins as the only teams from the Centennial, ODAC, and USA South to draw votes this week.
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