MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Huntingdon football team suffered its first defeat since September with a 23-7 loss to North Carolina Wesleyan on Saturday.
The two teams each scored one touchdown in the first half, with the Battling Bishops scoring on their first possession of the game and the Hawks answering with a 70-yard touchdown run by Dontavion Cunningham in the first minute of the second quarter.
Tied 7-7 in the second half, the Battling Bishops scored 16 unanswered points in the final 23 minutes of the game. A third-quarter field goal and a touchdown run in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter put North Carolina Wesleyan in front 16-7.
Huntingdon had two late scoring opportunities but could not take advantage. The first opportunity ended with the Battling Bishops returning an interception 96 yards for a touchdown. The Hawks' final drive ended two yards short on fourth down at the North Carolina Wesleyan 7-yard line.
Records: Huntingdon (6-3, 5-1 USA South); North Carolina Wesleyan (5-4, 4-2 USA South)
Turning Point: The Battling Bishops sealed the game with the big defensive stops on Huntingdon's final two possessions. But one of the biggest differences in the game was North Carolina Wesleyan's offensive success on third down throughout the game.
The Battling Bishops converted 11-of-16 third-down attempts and gained 129 yards on third down.
"Defensively, I thought we played pretty well except for third downs," Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said. "We gave up third-down conversion after third-down conversion and could not get off the field. That was somewhat demoralizing for our guys.
"They're ability to convert on third down was what really allowed them to control the ball and the game. As the game wore on and they continued to have success on third down, that was the thing that ended up beating us."
Cunningham rushed for a career-high 111 yards on nine carries, highlighted by a career-long 70-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Caldwell recorded a career-high 15 tackles to push his total to a team-high 80 tackles this season. This is the 12th time in program history a Huntingdon defender has totaled at least 15 tackles in a game. Caldwell is the third-leading tackler in the USA South Athletic Conference this season.
Conference title picture: Saturday's loss ended Huntingdon's goal of an unbeaten conference record, but the Hawks still have a shot at the USA South title. With Averett's 10-9 loss to Brevard on Saturday, Huntingdon remains in first-place in the USA South with a 5-1 conference record. Three teams (Averett, Brevard and North Carolina Wesleyan) are tied for second with 4-2 conference records. With one conference game remaining at LaGrange, the Hawks control their future and can clinch the conference title with a win.
Career receptions leader: Senior Otis Porter added another career record to his resume on Saturday. With three receptions against North Carolina Wesleyan, Porter passed former Hawks Cody Pearcy and Nick Haas to become the program's career leader in receptions. This season, Porter has broken the Hawks' career records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Through Saturday, he has 148 receptions for 2,901 yards and 34 touchdowns. His current career average of 19.6 yards per reception is also a program record.
Passing: Michael Lambert: 13/24 for 125 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs
Receiving: Cody Dwyer: 5 receptions for 47 yards
Rushing: Dontavion Cunningham: 9 rushes for 111 yards, 1 TD
Eric Thomas: 13 rushes for 77 yards
Kicking: Cole Starr: 1/1 PAT
Punting: Zach Johnson: 5 punts, 33.2 average, long of 38 yards
Sacks: DeAnte' Griffith (1)
Forced Fumbles: Ahmaud Taylor (1)
Fumble Recoveries: Karl Dorn (1)
Passes Broken Up: Ahmaud Taylor (2)
Head Coach Mike Turk on Saturday's loss: "This was a tough matchup for us. One of their strengths is ball control on offense. They played keep away pretty well today and controlled the time of possession. They did a good job and they had a really good plan. They're very sound and we have a lot of respect for them and you have to give them a lot of credit. They had a great plan and they did what they do well."
Turk on the priority moving forward: "We have to go back to work and be ready to play our kind of football. This is a gut check for our guys and an opportunity for us to learn a valuable lesson. Hopefully we will draw tighter, go back to work and be ready to play well next week."
Coming Up: Huntingdon plays at LaGrange on Nov. 16 at noon (Central).