Pioneers fall 24-10 in season opener at Delta State

Thurlow Wilkins had 153 kick return yards for the Pioneers, seventh-most in a game in school history (photo by Dom Donnelly)
Thurlow Wilkins had 153 kick return yards for the Pioneers, seventh-most in a game in school history (photo by Dom Donnelly)

CLEVELAND, Miss. --- Patrick Shegog threw for two touchdowns as Delta State University defeated Tusculum University 24-10 in the season opener for both teams Thursday night at McCool Stadium.

Rico Owens II added a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for the Statesmen (1-0), who outgained the Pioneers 295 yards to 282 and held Tusculum to just five third-down conversions in 19 attempts.

Joaquin Collazo passed for 117 yards and a touchdown to Jordon Shippy with 11 seconds left for the Pioneers (0-1), who controlled the ball for 36 minutes, 10 seconds but turned the ball over twice, missed a field goal and had a kickoff return for a touchdown called back due to penalty.

Shippy rushed 19 times for 56 yards for the Pioneers and passed Chip Walker for 10th place on the school career rushing list with 1,242 yards. Nine different receivers had at least one catch for the Pioneers, including Tory Ponder who had grabs of 36 and 35 yards in the first half and Chavis Williams who had a 33-yard gain in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt freshman Thurlow Wilkins had a strong debut for the Pioneers as he piled up 153 kick return yards, the seventh-most in a single game in program history. Wilkins nearly had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, but the runback was truncated to 31 yards due to a penalty against the Pioneers.

On defense, the Pioneers were led by junior linebacker Ivan Hogans who tied his career high with four tackles for loss among his seven total stops. Senior defensive back Isaiah Dunn also had seven tackles and contributed his second career interception in the third quarter.

The Tusculum defense clamped down on Delta State after the Statesmen went up 24-0 early in the third quarter, holding DSU to 16 total yards in the final 23 1/2 minutes and zero first downs.

After Wilkins returned the opening kickoff to his own 40 yard line, Tusculumd used a 36-yard completion from Collazo to Ponder to quickly move into Delta State territory. However, the Statesmen defense came up with a sack and forced a 42-yard field goal attempt into the wind that carried wide to the left.

Following a Delta State punt, the Statesmen got the ball back as Junior Faulk picked off Collazo at the Pioneer 18. Three plays later, Shegog hooked up with Vincent Wilkerson for an 18-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Statesmen lead with 6:16 left in the first quarter.

Neither team was able to advance into enemy territory over the next several possessions, leaving the Statesmen with the ball at their 21 following a Pioneer punt with 10:15 left in the half. Shegog drove his team 72 yards in 13 plays, including a 33-yard pass to Jalen Browder on third-and-8 and a face mask against the Pioneers on a third-down play short of the sticks.

The Delta State drive stalled inside the 10, and Taylor Crabtree booted a 24-yard field goal to extend the Statesmen lead to 10-0 with 5:48 to go in the first half. Punters Andrew Cantrell of Tusculum and Sam Barge of Delta State were called on twice each the remainder of the half as the Statesmen took the 10-point lead to the locker room.

The second half kickoff went to the Statesmen, and a 42-yard runback by Robbie Evans put Delta State near midfield to start the half. 11 plays later, Shegog hooked up with Browder from 23 yards to give the Statesmen a 17-0 lead with 11:07 left in the third quarter.

After another Tusculum punt, the Statesmen needed just two plays to extend their lead to 24-0 as Owens raced 60 yards to paydirt with 8:27 remaining in the third quarter. A blocked punt by Wilkerson gave the Statesmen the ball back at the Pioneer 49, but Dunn picked off backup quarterback Breck Ruddick at his own 15.

Tusculum called on Bryce Moore to call the signals following Dunn's pick, and he led the Pioneers on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that consumed 4:45 and was capped by a 36-yard field goal by Alan Andrzejewski on the first play of the fourth quarter to pull the Pioneers within 24-3.

Another interception by Faulk at his own 35 gave the Statesmen the ball back with 5:38 left but the Pioneer defense stood tall yet again. Tusculum regained possession with 3:17 left and moved into Delta State territory in the final minute. Moore went to the sidelines in favor of Collazo, who hit Ajay Belanger for 19 yards on fourth-and-14 and then connected with Shippy for a 24-yard score with 11 seconds on the clock to set the final score. The win was the second for the Statesmen in as many all-time meetings with the Pioneers, with the other by a score of 27-19 on the same field in the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs on Nov. 22, 2008.

Shegog finished 15-for-28 for 165 yards for the Statesmen, with Leon Green making a team-high four catches for 28 yards. Browder had three receptions for 54 yards and a score and Tony Daggett and Kelon Wilson each had a pair of grabs. On the ground, Owens rushed seven times for 69 yards and a touchdown for Delta State and Deion Dampier carried 11 times for 40 yards.

Belanger's team-best three catches netted him 33 yards for the Pioneers, while Ponder, Williams, Shippy and Maurice Gomillion each had two receptions. Gomillion also ran three times for 10 yards as Tusculum amassed 81 yards on 32 rushing attempts as a team. Moore finished the game 7-for-20 for 84 yards and an interception during his time in relief of Collazo for the Pioneers. Overall, Tusculum quarterback were 15-for-36 for 201 yards and one touchdown along with two interceptions.

Vada King led all players with 13 tackles (10 solo) for the Statesmen, with two tackles for loss. Faulk had five tackles to go along with his two interceptions, while Chris Pickett, Ty Goldsmith and Zane Samuel each had sacks for DSU.

Both punters were active, as Cantrell finished with eight punts for a 31.0 average and Barge kicked nine times for a 40.7 average and a long of 52. Dee Alford averaged 16 yards on four punt returns for Tusculum, including a long of 32 yards in the second quarter. Delta State was flagged six times for 67 yards in the game, while Tusculum committed five infractions for a total of 43 yards. Tusculum held a 12-10 edge in first downs and ran 68 plays to 63 by Delta State.

Tusculum will play its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 14 against West Alabama at Pioneer Field beginning at 6 p.m. It will be the first-ever meeting between the Pioneers and the Tigers, and the second straight game for Tusculum against a Gulf South Conference opponent.