Making its first bowl game appearance in six years, the Hancock College football team could not stop dual-threat quarterback Demonte Morris and the Jaguars’ offense Saturday in a 35-14 loss to Southwestern in the American Championship Bowl at Santa Maria High School.
“(Morris) was the difference maker, the thing (Hancock) couldn’t account for,” said Southwestern head coach Edward Carberry.
Coming out fast for the Jaguars (9-2), Morris hitting wide receiver Camron Lewis for a 43-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.
The freshman quarterback was named the Most Valuable Player of the game, finishing with 98 yards passing, 91 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t really recognize myself, I would recognize my line,” Morris said on winning the MVP award.
Morris scored his first touchdown with 2 minutes left in the first half on a 4-yard run up the middle to give the Jaguars’ a 14-0 lead. His second strike came with 2 minutes left in the third on a 20-yard quarterback keeper.
Hancock’s (8-3) defense stalled out Southwestern’s opening drive to slow the momentum following the big reception by Lewis. The Jaguars would send out the field goal unit for three points but would be denied. Hancock’s Connor Epley busted through the offensive line to block the 36-yard attempt along with recovering the loose ball.
“We always look at the next play and never look back,” Morris said. “(Hancock) was leaving zones open and we kept running and made it work”
On defense, the Jaguars prevented the Bulldogs from moving the ball in the opening quarter, holding Hancock to only 11 yards of total offense on 12 plays. Hancock was unable to garner a first down on its first three possessions and was forced to punt each time.
“The defense has been the story of the year for us,” Carberry said. “The big difference is our defense being physical.”
The Bulldogs didn’t see a first down until the 12-minute mark of the second quarter when quarterback Jimmy Kelleher found Markese Jackson for a 26-yard completion.
Following the blocked field goal by Epley, Southwestern had a hard time picking up yardage for most of the first frame. The Bulldogs defense forced the Jaguars to punt twice before Nick Sexton fumbled a backwards pass from Morris.
“We put together a little scheme to try to slow them down,” said Hancock head coach Chris Dutra. “They have just been on a tear lately running the football.”
The fumble was scooped up by Lenny Roundtree and put Hancock in the red zone with 5 minutes left in the first. Struggling to gain a first down, Jordan Pollard was sent out for the 29-yard field goal attempt. Pollard would miss wide right.
“Our defense held us together like they have all season,” Dutra said.
The momentum was back in the hands of Morris and the Jaguars. Morris completed six consecutive passes and capped off an 80-yard drive that spanned two quarters with a handoff to Isaac Strayhorn for a 7-yard touchdown run.
Strayhorn extended the Jaguars lead to a three-score game, 28-7, on his second touchdown of the game, scoring on the ground from 29 yards out.
Defensive pressure from the Jaguars continued to cause trouble for the Bulldogs. Hancock quarterback Jimmy Kelleher threw two interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter.
Isaac Bausley gave Hancock its first points of the night, finishing off an 80-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. The Bulldogs trailed 14-7.
Hancock would find the end zone one more time with 6:41 left on a 5-yard pass from Kelleher to Dominic Chance. Kelleher finished with 123 yards passing, completing 10 of 21 passes and the touchdown pass.
Southwestern put the finishing touches on Hancock when Shaquez Bond blocked the Bulldogs’ punt and Ricky Barfield picked up the ball and took it in for the score on special teams.
Morris finished the game 10-for-15 passing for 98 yards. He also ran for 91 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. Strayhorn rushed for 129 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. Southwestern finished with 353 yards of total offense, 255 on the ground and 98 in the air.
Hancock racked up 312 yards of total offense, 189 on the ground. Bausley led the Bulldogs with 63 yards on eight carries and one touchdown. Damon Whitmill Jr. finished with 52 yards on 12 carries. Kelleher threw for 123 yards by completing 10 of his 21 passes. He threw one touchdown and two picks. Markese Jackson and Ferraro caught three passes each. Chance had two receptions for 26 yards, including a touchdown.
Defensively, Jobe led the Bulldogs with 14 tackles and one fumble recovery. JD Smith tallied 13 tackles, while Epley had 11 tackles. Omokaro finished with seven tackles, including six for lost yardage, one sack and forced two fumbles. The sophomore was named Hancock’s Player of the Game.
The Bulldogs made their 17th appearance in a bowl game and eighth under head coach Kris Dutra. The Bulldogs dropped to 4-13 all-time in bowl games.