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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Shorter battles mistakes in sharp loss to open 2017 season

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The first college football game of the season can be seen as a beacon of hope for a team’s fans. That hope got a strong workout in Shorter University’s season opener Saturday.

The Hawks committed three turnovers and couldn’t stop visiting Mars Hill’s passing game as Shorter fell 40-14 at Barron Stadium. The game marks the Hawks’ 18th straight loss and 13th straight home loss.

“We just need to clean up the little mental mistakes that we have,” Shorter head coach Aaron Kelton said. “I think the guys played hard, but we are a better team than the one that was out here today, and we need to show that.”

Shorter sophomore quarterback Tyler Pullum finished 19-of-28 for 244 yards passing and a rushing touchdown. Running back B.J. McCoy, back from an injury that kept him out all of last season, finished with 76 yards and a touchdown.

“Tyler has done a great job learning from the games he played last season,” Kelton said. “The entire team has really put in work learning the system over the summer.”

The Hawks (0-1) suffered the same types of misfortune which plagued them throughout 2016, in which the team went 0-11.

Whether it was turnovers, penalties or missed field goals, critical mistakes put Shorter in a 21-0 hole in the first quarter from which it couldn’t escape.

One issue arose Friday when Kelton was informed that 16 of his players were ruled academically ineligible for the game. The group included starting defensive backs Nehemiah Reddish and Brodie Gonzalez.

Mars Hill (1-0) exposed that lack of depth quickly as quarterback David Salmon hit Keshaun Taylor for a 61-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game. Salmon would finish with 257 passing yards and three touchdowns.

“More than anything, we suffered due to the loss of players on the defensive side of the ball,” Kelton said. “The depth issues are certainly troubling for us as a staff.”

Shorter’s first two drives resulted in a missed field goal and a lost fumble by McCoy, both leading to Mars Hill touchdowns to put the Mountain Lions up by three scores after one quarter.

The Hawks got into the red zone on their third drive, only for Pullum to be picked off by Chris Leamon, who took it back 85 yards for a touchdown.

The lone bright spot in the day came with three minutes left in the first half, when the Hawks scored on a 1-yard dive by McCoy, ending a stretch of 22 quarters without Shorter scoring a point.

Shorter opened the second half with a touchdown to make it 27-14, but Salmon quickly responded with a touchdown pass to Craig Rucker to go back up 33-14 midway through the third. The Hawks failed to record a first down the rest of the game.

“We need to work on putting points on the board when we have the chance, and we have to get more physical as well,” Kelton said. “We’ll be back at practice and we’ll keep plugging along, that’s all we can do.”

The Hawks travel to Greeneville, Tennessee, next Saturday to play Tusculum.