By Justin Caudell
For the eleventh straight season, the Catamounts won their home opener on Thursday, Aug. 28, blanking the Shorter College Hawks 35 – 0 on the gridiron to start the 2008 season. The triumph ended a seven game losing streak, dating back to last year.
The last time Western made it into the win column was on Sept. 22, 2007 versus Presbyterian, the team’s only win of the season.
“I’m really proud of our coaching staff, I’m really proud of our players,” said head coach Dennis Wagner. “It all goes back to them and to all the hard work the coaches put in every day to prepare the team, and to the team buying into what we’re doing.”
Western rolled against Shorter after scoring on their initial drive. Starting on their own 36 yard line, the first play was a 56-yard strike from senior quarterback Andy Horn to red-shirt sophomore Marquel Pittman at the Hawks’ 8. After a penalty against Shorter, red-shirt sophomore quarterback Adam Hearns connected from the 4 on the next play to score the Catamounts’ first touchdown of the night.
Horn hooked up with Pittman to extend Western’s lead to 14 on their second possession as WCU drove 80 yards in 12 plays. Late in the second quarter, the Catamounts scored again after being pinned back after a holding penalty on a Hawk punt. On a 96 yard, 12 play drive, junior transfer Jayson Williams spun his way 24 yards into the end zone for the 21-0 advantage.
Before the half, Horn put together a 6-for-9 drive with three pass completions to junior Kyle Garland, one to Pittman and two to senior Donald James, who hauled in a 14-yard TD reception, to give Western a commanding 28 – 0 lead.
In a tight fourth defensivley, Hearns connected with red-shirt freshman Josh Cockrell on a floating pass to give the Catamounts the win with a final 35 – 0 margin
Shorter had one good opportunity to score early in the game with a 26-yard field goal kick try, but red-shirt junior Darrel Gray blocked the kick for Western.
In all, WCU limited Shorter to six first downs and 142 yards of total offense, including 109 on the ground and 33 through the air. The Catamounts also forced two fumbles.
Offensively for Western, Horn completed a career-best 22-of-33 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Hearns tallied 34 yards on the ground and completed 5-of-6 passes for 34 yards and a scoring strike, and red-shirt freshman Zack Jaynes, in his collegiate debut, finished 3-for-4 for 22 yards. The Catamounts had 477 yards of total offense, including 159 on the ground and 318 through the air.
Williams led the WCU ground game with 90 yards in 14 carries and Pittman had 106 yards in 6 receptions.
The blowout win was the Catamounts’ first shutout victory since defeating Chowan 42 – 0 in 2006, and the first shutout handed to Shorter in their fourth year of having a football program.
Wagner says the win against the Hawks, although impressive, should not be an insinuation for the rest of the season.
“It’s early. This is the first game of the year. By no means does this say where we’re going or what we’re doing. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and that’s what this football program has to do is start getting their chests back up and their heads back up and believing in themselves.”
The win against Shorter made Wagner, in his first year as coach of Catamounts, the fifth coach all-time at WCU to be victorious in his inaugural game.