MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Huntingdon College football program has never backed away from a challenge.
In past seasons, the Hawks have stepped up to play nationally ranked Division III programs. Before this season, Huntingdon had never been able to take advantage of the opportunity to pull out a win against a Top-25 program.
Behind five touchdowns in the first half and a strong defensive effort, the Hawks knocked off Hampden-Sydney 34-27 at Samford Stadium on Saturday.
"The best thing about today is being the first Huntingdon team that had this opportunity and was able to succeed in doing it," junior defensive lineman Courtney Moss said. "This is a good win for our program and it gives us confidence going forward. We know we can be the underdog and still come through."
The Tigers (3-1) were ranked No. 22 in the D3football.com poll and No. 14 in the American Football Coaches Association poll.
"Beating a Top-25 team is a big deal for us," Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said. "We talked about it this week, and how our program has had the opportunity in the past. But in those previous games, we never got over the hump. We've got a long way to go and a lot left to do this season, but this is a big win for our program."
Senior safety Justin Brown said the Hawks were motivated to make this opportunity count.
"To be the first Huntingdon team to beat a ranked opponent, that's big for us," Brown said. "This is something our program has wanted to do and something we have worked hard to do.
"We knew we had to come out and make plays from the start. They're a team that likes to jump out to a lead early and we knew we had to make some plays and stop them from having as many opportunities."
Brown made his share of plays on defense, accounting for two of Huntingdon's four interceptions. Senior Keith Anthony and sophomore Trammell DeJarnett had the Hawks' other two interceptions. Anthony's interception was the 16th of his career, making him Huntingdon's career leader.
DeJarnett may have had the biggest interception of the day, picking off Hampden-Sydney quarterback Travis Lane in the final minute. Trailing by seven, with first down at the Huntingdon 35, Lane went for the end zone. DeJarnett was there to make the play with 50 seconds remaining in the game.
"Our defense was consistent and got to their quarterback," Turk said. "There haven't been many people that were able to get to him this season. He still played well, but we were able to put some pressure on him and that helped us get a few turnovers and get our defense off the field."
Huntingdon (3-1) jumped out to a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter and led 34-12 at the half. Senior Cody Pearcy finished with four receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns – all in the first half.
Quarterback Neal Posey connected with Pearcy twice and running back Trevor Manuel threw a halfback pass to Pearcy for a touchdown on the Hawks' first possession of the game. Posey also connected with Tyler Hall for a touchdown and Parker Roberts scored on a 1-yard run.
Posey finished with 236 yards and was intercepted twice on a 17-for-29 day. Manuel led the ground game with 74 yards.
Turk was pleased with the offense's first half performance and 307 yards. He was not as pleased with 50 yards of offense in the second half.
"I was disappointed with our offensive play in the second half. We showed ourselves that we still have a lot we need to work on," Turk said. "Our defense really carried us in the second half. The defense is better than what they have shown the past couple of weeks. We knew that and the guys kept believing and listening to what we're telling them. Their willingness to keep working and to do what we asked is what ended up being the difference today."
Defensively, the Hawks surrendered 437 yards of offense and 34 first downs. But Huntingdon also kept the pressure on Hampden-Sydney at crucial moments.
Moss and the defensive line combined for six sacks and the entire defense recorded 10 tackles for loss. Zach Elkins led the defensive front with two sacks. Moss had a sack and forced a fumble. Linebacker Kirk Johnson led the team with 12 tackles
"We challenged ourselves to beat their offensive line," Moss said. "They were the best offensive line we've seen this season and we prepared to go all out against them. Our saying this week was "keep coming." That's what we did the entire game. We just kept coming after them."
Huntingdon takes on Ave Maria University next Saturday in Florida.