QUINCY -- The aggravation born of a litany of mistakes the Quincy University football team made forced Chris Brinson to speak up.
"It takes just one person to change the whole thing," Brinson said. "And I really hate losing."
So as the Hawks took the field early in the fourth quarter Saturday while facing a 24-17 deficit against Kentucky Wesleyan, the junior running back told his teammates he'd be the driving force in their comeback.
"I told them straight up, 'Listen to me. Hop on and I'll take you there. We will not lose this game,'" Brinson said. "The offensive line looked at me, got on board and hopped on my back."
He made good on his promise.
Brinson rushed for 79 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter, helping set up the tying and go-ahead touchdowns as the Hawks rallied to score with 20.2 seconds remaining in regulation to secure a 31-24 victory at QU Stadium.
The Hawks (1-1) won their fourth straight home opener, but it was the first time in that stretch they had to rally for a tone-setting victory.
"We grew up 200 percent because of the adversity," said Brinson, who finished with 174 yards on 25 carries. "Everybody in the program believes in what (second-year coach Gary) Bass is preaching about protecting your brother. Sometimes, you might have some slip-ups, but nobody panicked. Everybody stayed strong."
That wasn't easy to do.
Quincy scored the game's first 17 points, powering its way to two first-quarter touchdowns behind a running game that averaged 7.8 yards per carry on the first two drives. However, the running game and the offense stalled over the middle two quarters, and the Panthers fought their way back.
A 21-yard field goal by Chris Logsdon tied the game at 17 with 9:06 to go in the third quarter, and Kentucky Wesleyan took the lead on a 23-yard interception return by defensive lineman Dalan Cofer with 4:16 to go in the third quarter.
"We realized this team was not just going to fold and let us kick their butts," senior right guard Devon Hickman said. "They were going to fight back, so we knew we had to fight harder."
The Hawks did do by reestablishing the running game.
Quincy managed just 68 yards on 27 carries over the middle two quarters, with five carries for negative yards and five others for no gain. However, the game-tying drive started with two big runs.
Freshman quarterback Tionne Harris picked up 15 yards on the first play of the drive, and Brinson followed two plays later with a 25-yard gallop to get the ball inside Kentucky Wesleyan territory.
Nine plays later, on third and goal from the 1-yard line, Harris scored to tie the game at 24 with 8:05 remaining.
"We had a talk and said we should pound it and show who is tougher," said Harris, who had three rushing touchdowns and completed 12 of 31 passes for 208 yards and one score. "We had to show our grit."
The defense did that most of the day but never more than on the final two possessions.
The Hawks first forced the Panthers to go three-and-out on the possession following Harris' touchdown. Quincy drove to the 10-yard line and came away empty as Michael Klotz missed a 26-yard field goal attempt with 3:19 to go, but the Hawks stymied the Panthers on third and 3 at their own 43-yard line as linebacker Clayton Cole sacked Kentucky Wesleyan quarterback Mike McGee for a 7-yard loss.
"We were saying to each other, 'No big plays,'" QU linebacker Cody Leonard said. "We just wanted to put the offense in good position for a chance to score."
The Hawks ended up in prime position.
With Kentucky Wesleyan lined up in punt formation on fourth and 10 and Quincy expecting to get the ball back around the 25-yard line, the snap went over the head of Panthers punter Taylor Soper, and he covered it at the 5-yard line. It gave the Hawks first and goal with 54 seconds remaining.
"We knew at that point we had won the game," Hickman said. "We were going to punch it in."
Brinson ran right behind Hickman and right tackle B.J. Wilson for a 4-yard gain on first down, and Harris scored on a 1-yard dive on the next play.
"When push came to shove, you could see our young guys growing up," said Bass, whose team finished with 240 yards rushing and 448 yards of total offense. "They made plays at opportune times, and they never got rattled."
And they never lost faith.
"Even though we were down and facing some adversity, we stayed with what we knew we wanted to do, and that was run the ball down their throats," Hickman said. "We kept on doing it and doing it."
Quincy 31, Kentucky Wesleyan 24
14 First downs 16
37-152 Rushes-yards 51-240
113 Passing yards 208
265 Total yards 448
13-31-2 Comp-Att-Int 12-31-1
1-1 Fumbles-lost 1-1
5-47 Penalties-yards 5-36
Kentucky Wesleyan 0 14 10 0--24
Quincy 17 0 0 14--31
QU--Shane Barrett 71 pass from Tionne Harris (Michael Klotz kick), 14:03
QU--Harris 2 run (Klotz kick), 7:01
QU--Klotz 31 field goal, 3:43
KWC--Derek Barnes 82 punt return (Chris Logsdon kick), 8:41
KWC--Barnes 21 pass from Mike McGee (Logsdon kick), 1:22
KWC--Logsdon 21 field goal, 9:06
KWC--Dalan Cofer 23 interception return (Logsdon kick), 4:16
QU--Harris 1 run (Klotz kick), 8:11
QU--Harris 1 run (Klotz kick), 0:20
RUSHING--Kentucky Wesleyan, Corey Johnson Jr 21-146, Landan Thomas 7-41, Barnes 2-0, De'ondre Boggs 1-(minus-1), McGee 5-(minus 4), Taylor Soper 1-(minus 30). Quincy, Chris Brinson 25-174, Harris 20-49, Darries Rainey 3-11, David Tabakovic 2-4, Sherond Boyd 1-2.
PASSING--Kentucky Wesleyan, McGee 13-31-113-2. Quincy, Harris 12-31-208-0.
RECEIVING--Kentucky Wesleyan, Barnes 4-50, Boggs 3-23, Chauncey Greer 2-24, Jacob Yates 2-12, Ty Waltermire 2-4. Quincy, Barrett 2-101, Gabriel Bryant 2-42, Paul Sullivan 2-17, Chyrome Thorpe 2-0, Rainey 1-15, Zac Lonergan 1-15, Brinson 1-9, Jordan Smith 1-9.