MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The challenge was immense for the Faulkner football team here Saturday afternoon. Having suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses, the Eagles welcomed the highest-ranked team to ever play at Billy D. Hilyer Stadium in Georgetown College. And their high-powered offense would be facing the top defense in the country in a game Faulkner coaches quietly felt was a must-win for momentum heading into the back half of the season.
After the dust settled in a battle that included a video-game like third quarter, Brent Barker's Eagles had made a statement most-assuredly heard throughout the NAIA football world.
In front of a crowd of more than 3,000 boisterous fans, Faulkner ran roughshod through Georgetown's vaunted defense, racing past the No. 5 Tigers 55-31 for the most impressive victory in the program's six-plus years of intercollegiate competition. The Eagles gained a whopping 712 yards of total offense on the day, with All-American quarterback Josh Hollingsworth passing for 503 yards and four touchdowns along the way.
Quarterback Josh Hollingsworth plays lights out with 503 yards and four TD passes
"I'm really proud of our team for how it responded to a couple of really tough losses the past two weeks," said Barker, whose Eagles squandered fourth-quarter leads in narrow setbacks to Reinhardt and Lindsey Wilson. "With the exception of a couple of defensive breakdowns, this was our most complete game and we knew that's what it was going to take to beat a great team like Georgetown. Our guys were committed to the plan and we executed it, and now we have an opportunity to build on the biggest win we've ever had. Obviously, we're all pretty excited about how things went."
Thanks to a 29-yard strike from Hollingsworth to Triston McCathern in the second quarter, a methodical first half ended with Faulkner on top 7-3. What came next was one of the NAIA's highest-scoring quarters ever, with the teams combining for 63 points. After Georgetown took the lead in the opening minute on a 55-yard interception return by Jaylan Bailey off of a bobbled Hollingsworth pass, Faulkner scored on three straight possessions to seemingly grab control. Two of the scores came on Hollingsworth touchdown passes, one to Steven Dawson for 50 yards and the other to Greg Hollinger for 28 yards. The two scoring tosses sandwiched a 5-yard ramble into the end zone by Demetre Baker, and with 8:37 left in the quarter the Eagles led 28-10.
Georgetown's second play following the kickoff went for 66 yards and a touchdown, with quarterback Neal Pawsat finding Branden Burdette down the right sideline for the score that cut the lead to 28-17. A lost fumble on Faulkner's ensuing possession set up the Tigers in great field position, and it took only one play for Pawsat and Burdette to hook up again, this time from 26 yards out. The touchdown narrowed the deficit to 28-24, with the third-quarter clock still showing 7:56 left. A promising Faulkner drive stalled minutes later, forcing a punt, and the Tigers quickly reclaimed the lead in just two plays. On second-and-18 from the Georgetown 22, Logan Crockett slipped behind the Eagles' secondary and Pawsatt found him just past midfield and the speedy wideout sprinted the remainder of the 78 yards for the go-ahead score.
Faulkner marched 75 yards in eight plays to gain the advantage again, with Hollingsworth finding a wide open Damon Baca for a 25-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead for good. The breath-taking quarter's final play applied an exclamation point to the 15 minutes of craziness, with Faulkner's Trump Harrison fielding a bouncing punt at the Eagles' 3-yard line and weaving his way through the Georgetown defenders for 97 yards and a touchdown. The return sent the Faulkner faithful into a frenzy, and ultimately ended the Tigers' chances for a victory. Georgetown managed only 53 yards of offense in the final quarter and Pawsat tossed a pair of interceptions, both coming at the hands of Faulkner's Donny Ruggles.
The Eagles added another 5-yard scoring run from Baker and two field goals by Cameron Golob in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
"The third quarter was one of the craziest things I've ever experienced," Hollingsworth said. "We knew we had to stay the course and keep fighting, regardless of the situation and we did that. This was a game we had to win and it was a total-team effort. This will really lift our confidence. We know now that we can compete with and beat anybody on our schedule."
With the exception of the third-quarter miscues in the secondary, the Faulkner defense was solid, allowing the Tigers only 220 yards of offense in the other three periods combined. Georgetown (2-2) finished with 403 yards, only 59 of which came on the ground. The Eagles' offensive show was well-balanced, with Baker adding 129 yards on the ground and David Amos 84 more. Faulkner (4-2), which ran a season-high 96 plays, had 209 yards rushing to go with Hollingsworth's 503-yard passing effort.
"We need to stop allowing the big plays, but overall I thought we played well on defense," Ruggles said. "We'll get that fixed, and will be better with it the rest of the season. It's a great feeling to work so hard during the week, then have things play out like you want them to in the game against one of the top teams in the nation."
Dennis Thames had seven total tackles to lead the Faulkner defense, which got six apiece from Mitchell Hoskins and Kelepi Nau. The Eagles had five sacks in the game, with Antonio Jemison, Ray Smith, Rondrick Ragsdale, Kenny Beck and Andrew Mahan each taking down Pawsat behind the line of scrimmage. The Tigers' Bailey led all defenders in the game with 14 tackles, 13 of which were unassisted.
"We'll enjoy this win tonight, then we'll get back to work," Barker said. "The off week comes at a great time for us. Hopefully we can get some people healthy, and we can use the extra time to get better and eliminate some of our mistakes."
The Eagles travel to Lebanon, Tenn., to face Mid-South Conference West Division rival Cumberland on Oct. 19.