GEORGETOWN, Texas - Sophomore running back Kalon Heim had seven touches for 150 total yards and three scores while the Southwestern University defense forced three turnovers to go with four sacks as the Pirates overcame a slow start to knock off Denison University in their season opener, 42-21, on Saturday evening at Birkelbach Field.
The Pirates avenge a season opening loss to the Big Red just a season ago, falling 49-31 in Granville.
Though the Pirates offense wasn't quite in full gear all night, they still managed 418 total yards on the evening including 243 on the ground alone. On the other side, Denison racked up 380 on the day, but the Pirates defense came away with big plays all night, winning the turnover battle 3-0.
It was not easy early on as the Southwestern offense sputtered on their first two drives. Meanwhile, Denison put together two solid drives before cashing in with four minutes to play in the first on an Alex Minton score from eight yards out.
Though the Southwestern offense began to see positive signs in the second quarter, Denison continued to hold the offense in check until a muffed punt thanks in part to a strip by sophomore Clay Anthony followed by a recovery for the Pirates. One play later, Heim found paydirt for the first time from nine yards out to even the score at 7.
Southwestern got a stop on defense and junior Frederick Hover had a quick answer, faking the power run and throwing a dart to Heim, who scampered 70 yards for his second TD of the game and the Pirates first lead of the game at 14-7.
On the following Big Red drive, Canaan Gebele tried a deep ball but sophomore Rosario Hernandez, Jr. stayed step-for-step with his man and came away with an incredible diving interception. The Pirates marched down the field, going 88 yards in nine plays thanks to a big completion to senior Markell Henderson and big runs from Heim and junior David Brandenburg.
After runs of 12 and 18 by Heim set the Pirates up on the 1, Hover capped the drive with a one yard plunge to increase the lead to 21-7. Hernandez closed the half with his second interception of the game and SU took the two score lead into the break.
In the second half, Denison tried to take control of the game via time of possession, opening the second half with a masterful 14 play, 75 yard drive capped by Minton's second score of the day to cut the deficit to seven.
Southwestern had a response thanks in part to a big return by freshman Austin Castilleja. The Pirates only needed 1:15 and 3 plays to cover 55 yards as Heim scored his third touchdown of the game from 25 yards out off a beautiful option pitch from Hover to move back ahead 28-14.
Denison again put together a long drive, going 10 plays; however, the Pirates defense came up huge and forced a turnover on downs to reclaim possession going into the fourth.
Southwestern started the final period with a 6 play, 76 yard drive capped by a 28 yard touchdown toss from Hover to Henderson to move ahead 35-14.
The Big Red had to move away from their strong running game and go to the air. The Big Red got one back with 6:33 to play in the fourth to cut it to 35-21, but the Southwestern offense held tight and added a late insurance touchdown for the 42-21 victory.
Heim carried six times for 80 yards to go with his one catch for 70 and was able to find the endzone three times, but Brandenburg also put in a great effort on the ground, rushing eight times for 76 yards. Hover rushed 29 times for 74 yards and two scores and also went 5 of 7 for 175 and two touchdowns through the air. Henderson hauled in two catches for 57 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, sophomore Ben Brockman led the pack with 12 tackles while junior Hayden Smith added 11 tackles and two huge sacks, both coming on key third down possessions in the second half. Junior Christopher Crawford had eight tackles and a sack while junior Garrett Womack had a sack.
Hernandez finished with seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and two interceptions while junior Josiah Minnifield had two pass breakups.
On the Denison side, Minton finished with exactly 100 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns while Gebele was 18 of 31 for 187 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. David Weimar hauled in eight catches for 78 yards while Malik Webster hauled in a touchdown catch.
Defensively, Logan Pfizenmayer had nine total tackles and a sack while Sam Ray added seven tackles, a half sack, and two tackles for losses.
Southwestern starts the 2018 campaign at 1-0, only the second time since football returned to Georgetown in 2013 that SU has won their opener. The last win came against Sul Ross State on September 13, 2014.
The Pirates will hit the road next weekend and begin American Southwest Conference play. The Pirates will head to Abilene for a match up with the McMurry War Hawks on Saturday beginning at 7 PM at Wilford Moore Stadium. SHN Sports will be on the call live from Abilene.