Fifty-three years in the making, Hendrix’s first football game in more than a half-century Saturday couldn’t have followed a more perfect script for the revival of football for the Conway college.
It began with the Warriors dangling on a precipice, giving up a sack, an interception, a 26-yard run and a touchdown on the first four plays.
It ended with a drive against the clock and a last-second victory before the home folks, sweating both from excitement and an afternoon with the heat index near triple digits.
“Guess we tried to get all the bad things out right off the bat,” said Hendrix coach Buck Buchanan after Steve Crenshaw’s25-yard field goal with 1.7 seconds left gave the resurrected Warriors’ program a 46-44 victory over Westminster in Hendrix’s first football victory since Nov. 11, 1960.
That capped a 65-yard drive in 15 plays with 3:06 left, engineered by a local product (quarterback Seth Peters of Greenbrier), that was kept alive by a fourth-and-five completion to Spencer Smith.
After the clock ran out on a squib kickoff, the Warrior players sprinted to end zone near their locker facility and set off a “Remember the Titans” dancing, shaking, hugging celebration.
And those “Hendrix football: Undefeated since 1960” are relevant for another week.
In taking the dramatics to the fullest, the Warriors overcame deficits of 7-0, 21-14, 28-21, 35-21, 35-24, 35-30 and 44-44 in the table tennis style matchup with the Blue Jays of the Upper Midwest Conference.
“Outside of the folks in our locker room, I don’t think anyone believed that we could hang in there, punch-for-punch with a team in the fourth quarter,” Buchanan said. “This was the first fourth quarter in a college game most of our players have played and trial-by-fire is something you can’t simulate in preseason.”
Leading 43-35 and seemingly stabilized after a shaky end to the first half and start of the third quarter, the Warriors found themselves on the ropes again after Westminster’s Josh Bromberg returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and Kevin Ludwig booted a 28-yard field goal in giving the Blue Jays a 44-43 lead with 3:52 left.
The Warriors took over at their 25 with two timeouts left.
“We were relaxed, settled and confident from the start we could score,” said Peters, who passed for 358 yards and four touchdowns in his college debut.
Working the breadth of the field nicely, Peters completed four passes to Smith, the last in which the 6-foot-4 receiver from Houston made a leaping reception on the sideline on fourth and five at the Westminster 37.
“We had a vertical call and our guy (Smith) broke it off with a short corner and he ran a great route and made a great catch,” said Peters.
“We had guys like Spencer step up and make plays all day; he was a second-team receiver when we started the game,” said Buchanan, who noted the Blue Jays played a different defense than the one his team had prepared for three weeks.
With the ball at the Westminster 24 with the clock ticking down from 45 seconds, Dayton Winn, 5-10, 160-pounder from Pea Ridge who rushed for 146 yards on 20 carries, burst into open field and weaved through the defense for 20 yards before going out of bounds with a cramp at the 2.
“He gave us every last ounce he could,” said Buchanan.
Peters kept for no gain, then ran the ball back 6 yards to the center of the field, setting up the field goal try.
The Blue Jays, who had blocked an extra point earlier, jumped offside but Crenshaw got the kick off through the uprights, making declining the penalty a no-brainer.
“I couldn’t tell whether they jumped offside but there was a guy in my face really early,” said Crenshaw, who is living in the same dorm room that his father did when he was a Hendrix student. “When we took over on the 25, I was thinking I better start warming up. I didn’t want to be the guy to not make it to win the game.”
The Warriors had touchdown drives of 88 yards in nine plays, 77 yards in five plays, 65 yards in four plays, 82 yards in nine plays, 71 yards in seven plays and 67 yards in 15 plays. They accumulated 538 yards in offense, overcoming an interception that set up one touchdown, another that led to a touchdown and a lost fumble on the three in the final seconds of the half.
“Nerves got to us at first,” said Peters, who had touchdown passes of 9, 44, 1 and 22 yards.
Westminster, which led 28-21 at the half, seemed prepared to wear down the Warriors after taking the second half kickoff with its most assertive drive of the afternoon — 70 yards in 11 plays to take a 35-21 lead with 10:53 left.
Then, the Warrior defense, struggling most of the day, found another gear,.
A fumble recover by Justin Billot led to a 26-yard field goal by Crenshaw to draw Hendrix within 35-24,.
The Warriors’ Stephen Stearman forced a fumble that Caleb Shannon picked up and returned to the Westminster 16 and Hendrix got eight more yards on a personal foul penalty. That set up Peters’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Doug Phillips to pull the Warriors within 35-30 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
Aided by two personal foul penalties, Peters led the Warriors 82 yards in nine plays for a 36-35 lead with 2:42 left in the third.
“Our defense settled in the third quarter and they made some plays and we became opportunistic after our defense made plays,” Buchanan said. “We played with discipline.”
The Warriors were penalized six times for 51 yards, including having a touchdown called back. The Blue Jays, who had 410 yards of offense, were penalized 12 for 90 yards, including an assortment of personal fouls.
“To come out and win our first game like this, it was definitely one of the most outstanding things I’ve been a part of,” said Peters. “We are showing everybody we are here to compete and not a bunch of freshmen playing football together.”