MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The outcome was decided early on Saturday.
As the backups closed out the final quarter and a half of Huntingdon's 55-7 win over Methodist University, the significance of the win began to sink in. Shortly after the final horn sounded, the celebration of a third straight USA South Athletic Conference championship began.
"We're blessed. We still have work to do, but what this team has accomplished this year is pretty awesome," Huntingdon head football coach Mike Turk said. "If you think about where we started from (having to replace 28 seniors, a 0-1 start and several key injuries) and where we've been able to get to, this team has probably improved as much or more than any team I have ever been a part of."
Saturday's win was the eighth straight for the Hawks and guaranteed Huntingdon a third straight berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Huntingdon will close out the regular season and conference play on Nov. 11 at LaGrange.
Records: Huntingdon (8-1, 6-0 USA South); Methodist (1-8, 1-5 USA South)
The Turning Point: Huntingdon controlled the game from the start. The Huntingdon offense scored on five of its first six possessions and the defense held the Monarchs to one scoring drive.
Running backs Vic Jerald (1-yard run) and Kobe Smith (7-yard run) scored Huntingdon's first two touchdowns before quarterback Chip Taylor connected with Quen Whitlow for a 45-yard touchdown and Otis Porter for a 71-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
Dontavion Cunningham capped the first half scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run and a 35-7 lead. Cunningham added two second-half touchdowns on a pair of 7-yard runs. In between Cunningham's second-half touchdowns, Eric Thomas scored on a 36-yard run.
Notable Performance: Freshman running back Eric Thomas rushed for a career-high 161 yards on 21 carries in the final 24:02 of the game.
With the Hawks focused on the running game in the second half, Thomas accounted for all but 74 of Huntingdon's 235 yards on the Hawks' final four possessions.
Passing: Chip Taylor: 8/10 for 237 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Receiving: Otis Porter: 3 receptions for 140 yards, 1 TD
Quen Whitlow: 3 receptions for 65 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Eric Thomas: 21 rushes for 161 yards, 1 TD
Vic Jerald: 14 rushes for 99 yards, 1 TD
Dontavion Cunningham: 8 rushes for 57 yards, 3 TDs
Kobe Smith: 8 rushes for 52 yards, 1 TD
Kicking: Chase Young: 7/7 PATs
Interceptions: Charlie Jones (1)
Quick Facts: With the win over Methodist, the Huntingdon senior class set a new program record with its 34th win in four years … Saturday's win was the third straight against Methodist. The Hawks hold a 3-2 advantage in the series that began in 2013 … Huntingdon's 660 yards of total offense against the Monarchs marked a season-high and is the eighth highest total in program history … After giving up 134 points in the first four games of the season, the Hawks have allowed 47 points in the last five games. In that five-game span, only one team has scored multiple touchdowns against the Huntingdon defense.
Head Coach Mike Turk on the Hawks' senior class: "A lot of the credit for this season goes to our seniors, the work they have done and the leadership they have provided. The guys on this team have been bound and determined to be good. We're reaping the benefits of that right now.
"This senior class broke the record today for the number of wins by a class in four years, and we still have games to play. These guys have stuck together, kept practicing, kept playing and found a way to become a really good team."
Turk on seeing younger guys get a chance to play: "We played a lot of guys today and we had a lot of guys play well. Eric Thomas rushing for 161 yards in the second half is a great example of that. We were able to play three groups of offensive linemen, all four quarterbacks and we played a lot of guys on defense as well. You can't put a price tag on the value of being able to get young players in the game to get experience."
Turk on closing out conference play and the regular season next week at LaGrange: "We have a big game next week against a rival and it's always an important game for us. We're challenging our guys to continue to take steps forward and not take a step backwards. To do that we're going to have to come out, have a good week of preparation and get ready to play a good opponent. There are still challenges out there for us and we want to make sure we're doing what is necessary for us to meet them."
Coming Up: Huntingdon closes out the regular season at conference rival LaGrange. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. (Central).