JACKSON, Miss. -- The Southwestern University Pirates football team welcomed back an injured quarterback and unveiled a new one, getting its offense back on track in a 31-21 win over the Belhaven University Blazers.
Injured quarterback Coleman Kerr was a late return to the active roster, restoring dormant parts of the Southwestern passing attack, while converted running back J.J. Slack made his season debut under center as a change-of-pace backup, unveiling new wrinkles to the offense to balance out the Pirates with a bruising run game in the second half.
After both teams opened the game with three-and-out possessions, Belhaven struck first with a six-play, 75-yard drive punctuated by Brad Foley's 19-yard touchdown run.
Though the Pirates failed to put points on the board on their next drive, missing a 31-yard field goal, Southwestern regained some punch in its offense with a pair of 20-yard passes from Kerr to David Brandenburg, and a 10-yard pass to Austin Castilleja.
Caleb Richardson made a big play for the Pirate defense on third-and-three, stuffing Foley behind the line of scrimmage for a six-yard loss to force another Belhaven three-and-out possession.
Starting from the 50-yard line, Kerr and running back Jeremiah Richardson connected on a 41-yard pass play to setup an eventual Pirate touchdown on an Elijah Smith five-yard run to tie the game at 7-7.
Belhaven burned Southwestern for a 57-yard pass from Hunter McEachern to Foley to the Pirate 25-yard line but Southwestern's defense, with the aid of a penalty, was able to force a punt after Hayden Smith tackled Kolbe Blunt for a seven-yard loss on third-and-six as both teams went scoreless in the second quarter.
The Pirates changed tactics on the opening drive of the second half, putting Slack in at quarterback in a new-look I formation. Southwestern alternated carries between Kalon Heim, Devin Shaw, and Smith, running for 56 yards to take a 10-7 lead on a Wil Herbst 30-yard field goal.
Southwestern seized momentum on defense with another three-and-out possession, forcing a punt to the Pirates' 28-yard line.
With Slack under center again, the Pirates reeled off runs of four, six, and six yards from Shaw, Smith, and Heim before Shaw broke loose for a 55-yard run to the Belhaven one-yard line, setting up Slack's one-yard run for a 17-7 lead.
"We started working on [the new offense] three weeks ago when we lost Austin Emery and Coleman Kerr," Austin said. "We thought we'd need to do things to keep pressure off the quarterback. And J.J. can do so many things. He's on all of our special teams units and he can also run this under-center offense, turning it into an 11-man attacking offense."
With the return of a clock-eating run game, the Pirate defense retained its punch in the second half, holding Belhaven to two more three-and-out possessions to close the third quarter.
Shaw opened up the fourth quarter with a 19-yard run to the Belhaven 25 and closed the drive with a three-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to put the game out of reach. On the Pirates' next drive, Slack showcased his passing ability with the Pirates drawing a pass interference on an attempt to Brandenburg, followed by a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brandenburg to take a 31-7 lead.
The Blazers were able to put together two scoring drives over the last six minutes, getting a three-yard touchdown run from Foley and a 65-yard touchdown pass from McEachern to LaMar Caradine with 47 seconds remaining, ending the game at 31-21.
Kerr played under center the first half, completing 8-of-15 passes for 133 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Slack played the entire second half, completing 2-of-4 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Shaw led the Pirates' running attack with 116 yards on 12 carries. Smith had 14 carries for 71 yards, Austin Castilleja had three carries for 46 yards, and Heim had seven carries for 26 yards. Brandenburg had six receptions for 108 yards and one touchdown.
The Pirates had 452 yards of total offense, rushing for 277 on 56 attempts for an average of 4.9 yards per carry, controlling possession for over 34 minutes.
Hayden Smith led the Pirate defense with seven tackles, including 4.5 tackles for a loss of 17 yards. Womack had one sack for four yards.
With the win, the Pirates improve to 3-2 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. The Pirates will host top-ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor next Saturday at 1:00 p.m.