By Matt Green
LAKE WALES, Fla. – His debut was three years in the making. His performance was record-breaking. For Shorter senior quarterback David Byrd, his first collegiate start was well worth the wait.
Byrd set school records with 166 yards and three TDs through the air to lead the Hawks to a 42-10 victory over 20th-ranked Webber International in Shorter's 2011 season opener on Saturday afternoon in Lake Wales, Fla.
The Fayetteville, Ga., native, who spent his first three years in a Shorter uniform as a back-up, completed his first four passes of the game – two that went for touchdowns in the first half – and finished 5 for 6 as Shorter snapped a string of three straight losses in season openers.
""You have to take your hat off to David," said Shorter head coach Phil Jones. "What a great moment to get your first chance a long way away from home against a great team and have the poise that he had. His poise was outstanding, he made the plays we asked him to make and was absolutely accurate throwing the ball."
Byrd and Jonny Sitton hooked up on an 18-yard TD on Shorter's second drive of the game for a 7-0 Shorter lead in the first quarter. Byrd's 22-yard strike to Caleb Collins put the Hawks up 21-3 with 10:11 left in the first half.
His final touchdown strike covered 33 yards to Gary Tiller and put Shorter ahead 42-3 with 9:20 left in the game.
As dominating as Shorter was offensively, the Hawks were equally as impressive on defense and in special teams.
Shorter, which finished the 2010 season ranked second in the Mid-South Conference in rushing defense, held Webber to 97 yards rushing and forced four Warrior turnovers.
Junior safety Desmond Clark returned a second quarter interception 100 yards for a 28-3 Shorter advantage with 49 seconds left in the first half. Eric Stallworth also picked off a pass and Jermel Bennett and Jamal Aquil recovered Webber fumbles.
"I thought the best thing about our defense is how they flew to the ball," Jones said. "They gave so much effort in breaking to the football. Webber has athletes that can operate in space, but when you have so many people breaking to the ball, you can eliminate that."
Electric sophomore Jonny Sitton racked up 168 return yards in his Shorter debut.
The University of South Florida transfer had a 71-yard kickoff return that set up Byrd's TD strike to Collins in the first half and produced a 70-yard punt return in the third quarter that set up Byrd's final TD toss to Tiller.
Webber (0-2) outgained the Hawks 423-368, but that statistic was hardly indicative of Shorter's dominance.
Sophomore fullback C.J. Scott, who rushed for over 100 yards in Shorter's 42-14 win over Webber last season at Barron Stadium, rolled up 130 yards on nine carries. He broke loose for a 52-yard touchdown as time expired in the first quarter to give the Hawks a 14-3 lead. The Hawks finished with 202 yards on the ground.
Webber's Chris Hart replaced starting quarterback Torrance Moise late in the first half and finished 17 for 30 for 244 yards with two interceptions. Warriors' tailback Deonte Fielder, who torched UVA-Wise for 169 yards and two TDs last week, managed just 47 yards, 21 of which came on his third quarter touchdown run.
Shorter finished with no turnovers, something that Jones stressed from day one of preseason as a point of emphasis after turnovers a key junctures plagued the Hawks in several close losses in 2010.
"We didn't turn the ball over and for that, I am so proud of our guys," Jones said. "I thank the Lord for that – I'm thankful for all of this. It is a big, big victory for us."
Shorter beat a ranked Webber team for the second year in a row and improved to 3-1 all-time against the Warriors, much to the credit of Byrd, who dazzled from the start with his poise and accuracy.
The Hawks went 80 yards in four plays for the first score of the game with the big play coming on Byrd's 66-yard completion to Roderick Jones on third and nine from their own 21. After an illegal procedure penalty, Byrd hit Sitton on a wheel route just inside the front right pylon from 18 yards out for his first career TD pass.
After Mason Prater booted a 24-yard field goal to bring Webber to within 14-3 at the 10:37 mark of the second quarter, Sitton took the ensuing kickoff and bolted down the left sideline before he was taken down at the Webber 22. On the very next play, Byrd threw an identical wheel route to Caleb Collins, who corralled the delivery at the five and walked into the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
Stallworth's interception came on Webber's first drive of the second half and set up Kenny Foster's 5-yard touchdown plunge that capped a 4-play, 44-yard drive and put Shorter up 35-3 and Byrd completed the onslaught with a pinpoint post route from 33 yards out into the chest of Tiller on Shorter's next possession.
The Hawks have little time to bask in the upset win – Shorter opens at home on Saturday' Sept. 17 against Mid-South East Division member and undefeated University of Pikeville at 1:30.
"We are excited about next week," Jones said. "It's going to be a long ride back and hopefully we can patch up some minor injuries and recover from this heat that took a lot out of us.
"We will replenish them and get back after it on the practice field."