SEWANEE, Tenn. - The Sewanee football team showed Saturday that it is for real - real enough to lose on a couple of mistakes instead of being overwhelmed, as has so often been the case in recent years.
Birmingham-Southern overcame a two-touchdown deficit to beat the Tigers 28-21 and improve to 4-0 this season and 5-0 all-time against the mountaintop program. Last year, though, the margin in Birmingham was 50-10.
Saturday, the Tigers (2-2) moved briskly downfield in their triple-option offense to a 7-0 lead just 2:24 into the game and responded to one giveaway touchdown with another impressive drive for a 14-7 halftime lead. After more than doubling the Panthers in time of possession in the first half, Sewanee then made it 21-7 at the midpoint of the third quarter on quarterback Curtis Johnson's second touchdown run of the game.
But then Birmingham-Southern clamped down on defense and started making crucial offensive plays with the Tigers defenders starting to spend extra time on the field.
Joseph Moultrie, a sophomore tailback who took some snaps from the shotgun formation, scored the first three touchdowns for the Panthers, and workhorse junior tailback Shawn Morris plunged into the end zone from 2 yards away for the winning score with 34.8 seconds left in the game. That came after quarterback Jimmy Stainback ran 12 yards on a keeper on the 12-play, 87-yard drive.
The previous Panthers scoring possession covered 92 yards in 12 plays, Moultrie taking the ball the last 7 yards with 7:09 to go.
Ryan Laughlin, a sophomore from Fort Payne, kicked all four extra points for BSC.
The Tigers' troubles really started when senior fullback Zeke Wilson, one of two Sewanee punters, bobbled a long snap for the second time. The first time, he secured the ball and ran for a first down from deep in Tigers territory, but on the next possession after his team went up 21-7 he fumbled another punt snap into the end zone and covered it at the 1. The ball changed hands on downs, though, and Moultrie scored on the next play.
"We're not good enough to make foolish mistakes and win," first-year Sewanee coach Tommy Laurendine said later. "I know we're better - I understand that and I appreciate the pats on the back - but we want to win. We've got 13 seniors on this team and we want to send them out with a winning season, and we can't win by making foolish penalties and dropping snaps on punts."
Wilson is one of those seniors. So is defensive end Will Law, whose personal foul on a third-down stop set up Moultrie's first 7-yard score with 4:32 left in the first half.
Morris ran 23 times for 113 yards and Moultrie added 88 yards on eight carries for BSC, while Stainback was 7-of-11 passing for 100 yards with a 44-yarder to Aaron Sherrill.
Johnson carried the ball 20 times for 94 yards and was 2-for-4 passing for 44 yards for Sewanee, while fellow sophomore quarterback Lee Schurlknight was 3-for-6 for 39 yards and ran six times for 24 yards. Ben Cleveland ran eight times for 47 yards, including a 20-yard TD for the first score of the game.
Laurendine praised the work of Johnson in particular and the Tigers' young offensive line but said the team needed to keep drives alive in the second half like it did in the first.
"The offense has got to make first downs and get the defense off the field. We have a lot of freshmen playing and it was a warm day," the coach said.
"I feel every drive we've got the potential to score," Johnson said. "Every possession I feel we can. Birmingham-Southern is a good team."
Andrew Shannon had 12 solo tackles for BSC, while Andrew Walters and John Davenport had six and five solos and seen total stops for Sewanee, which hosts Millsaps this Saturday.