Panthers win Wesley Cup Game in 35-34 thriller

Jamal Watkins (photo by Jimmy Mitchell)
Jamal Watkins (photo by Jimmy Mitchell)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—In a nail-biter where both teams combined to score 20 points in the final minute of play, the Birmingham-Southern football team picked up its second-straight one-point victory Saturday evening, defeating Huntingdon 35-34 for the Wesley Cup on Battle Field at Panther Stadium.

The Panthers move to 2-0, while the Hawks fall to 1-1. BSC now leads the series 4-2 and avenged last year's loss in Montgomery to reclaim the Wesley Cup, named after John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church.

It was BSC's second straight one-point win after defeating LaGrange on the road last Saturday, 29-28.

Sophomore receiver Jamal Watkins was the player of the game for BSC, scoring three touchdowns, including two 90-plus yard kickoff returns in the fourth quarter.

After the teams traded touchdowns to start the game, the Panthers pulled ahead 14-7 near the end of the second quarter on a 37-yard pass from junior Austin Martin to Watkins. BSC scored again at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter when junior Samir Usman leaped over the line of scrimmage to score from one yard out. Huntingdon capped off the third with a 22-yard run by Lorenzo James as time expired, cutting it to 21-14.

Watkins opened the fourth with the first of his two kickoff returns, a 92-yard run to push the Panther lead to 28-14, but the Hawks stayed on their heels, scoring with 6:14 left to cut it back to 28-21.

With less than a minute left to play, it looked like BSC had wrapped up the win, but Huntingdon capped off a 93-yard, nine-play drive to score on a 17-yard pass from Luke Bailey to Diggan Andre with 53 seconds remaining, tying it up at 28-28.

The BSC special teams unit sprang into action again on the ensuing kickoff, however, with Watkins streaking 93 yards down the field to put the Panthers back in the lead with 40 seconds on the clock.

The Hawks were not done yet, though, marching down the field in 33 seconds to score on a 29-yard pass from Bailey to Willie Coleman, cutting it to 35-34 with only three seconds left to play. Huntingdon went for the win rather than the tie, but the two-point conversion was unsuccessful as time expired, preserving the one-point Birmingham-Southern victory.

"The theme this year was to finish the game," Head Coach Eddie Garfinkle said. "We struggled with that last year. I told the guys, this wasn't just a finish, it was a fantastic finish. That got a big cheer. I'm so proud of these guys.

"Our special teams came through in a big way tonight," Garfinkle continued. "Ryder Andrews has done a heck of a job as a freshman kicker, and we've got some good young guys on special teams that have bought in and really made a difference in today's game."

Andrews was a perfect 5-5 on extra point attempts tonight after going 2-2 on both extra points and field goals, including the game-winning extra point, last weekend against LaGrange.

On the defensive side of the ball, senior Alex King led with 10 tackles (8 solo) and had a 31-yard fumble return.

The Panthers are at home again next Saturday, Sept. 19, opening Southern Athletic Association play against Sewanee. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m. on Battle Field at Panther Stadium.