Saturday turned out to be a day of firsts for the Quincy University football players.
Senior wide receiver Shane Barrett caught his first career touchdown pass and enjoyed his first career 100-yard receiving game.
Junior linebacker Sam Mock intercepted his first pass and had his first double-digit tackle performance.
Freshman quarterback Tionne Harris threw his first touchdown pass, scored his first touchdown rushing and tossed his first interception.
Freshman defensive tackle Jacques Jean Baptiste recorded his first sack in the first quarter and followed it up with his second in the third quarter.
Above all else, the Hawks enjoyed their first victory of the season, beating Kentucky Wesleyan 31-24 at QU Stadium. Quincy trailed 24-17 at the end of the third quarter but rallied with Harris scoring two of his three rushing touchdowns in the final eight minutes.
That allowed the Hawks to celebrate their first fourth-quarter comeback since beating Truman State 23-19 on Oct. 31, 2015, when they rallied from a 19-6 deficit in the final 15 minutes.
"A win is a win," QU coach Gary Bass said. "It doesn't matter if it's by one or 100. They should be proud of the way they fought and the way they kept their composure and made it happen."
Leonard keeps racking up tackles
Senior linebacker Cody Leonard continues to put himself in position to disrupt an opposing offense. Saturday, he did it multiple ways. Leonard finished with 13 tackles, seven solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass broken up and one quarterback hurry. He also made sure the QU defense didn't give up too much.
The Hawks allowed just 10 points on defense -- the Panthers also scored on an 82-yard punt return and a 23-yard interception return -- the one touchdown they allowed was a 21-yard touchdown pass two plays after the Hawks lost a fumble in their own territory. The Panthers finished with just 265 yards of total offense and no offensive touchdowns in the second half.
"We learn that no matter what the score is we're never going to quit," Leonard said. "We might bend, but we won't break."
Leonard's 13 tackles marked the 10th time in his career he has had 10 or more tackles in a game and were his second-highest single-game total. He had 17 tackles last season in a victory over Lincoln.
"We played with a lot of effort and really swarmed to the ball," Leonard said. "I like the way we attacked. It's looking good for us."
Brinson churns out yards
Chris Brinson's flashiest runs were the 32-yard jaunt he had in the first quarter and the 29-yard burst in the fourth quarter. His most effective runs were of the 5-, 6- and 7-yard variety in the fourth quarter when he dragged Kentucky Wesleyan defenders for extra yards. His final carry was a 4-yard dive to the 1-yard line on first and goal from the 5-yard line that set up Harris' 1-yard touchdown plunge for the winning score with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.
The junior running back finished with 174 yards on 25 carries, averaging 7 yards per carry. He had 15 carries for 99 yards in the second half.
"When Chris put his head behind his shoulders, you could see him take the game over," Bass said. "He was the spark and the catalyst for everything. He can fly, but what most people don't realize is he was can run with power. He runs behind his pads."
Brinson's yardage total was the most for a QU running back since Jaylan James rushed for 178 yards against Davenport in 2016 and the second most since Chris Harris rushed for 218 yards against Southwest Baptist in 2014.
"He did a hell of job," Harris said. "He was running tough, finding the open holes. He was the one getting us in position to score."
Learning to put the hammer down
After scoring on their first three possessions and building a 17-0 lead, the Hawks took the foot off the pedal.
"They kind of went, 'Ahhhh,'" Bass said.
He's seen that happen before. Last season, the Hawks led William Jewell 28-14 after scoring midway through the third quarter when they went into cruise control. The Cardinals scored the game's final 31 points for a 45-28 victory at QU Stadium.
"We can't allow a team to stay in it and hang in it," Bass said.
The same thing started to happen Saturday. Kentucky Wesleyan scored on an 82-yard punt return and a 21-yard pass two plays Quincy lost a fumble and went into halftime trailing only 17-14.
"Quickly, it turned into a really close game," Bass said.
It got worse. The Panthers tied the game with a 21-yard field goal and took the lead with 4:16 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard interception return by defensive lineman Dalan Cofer. Instead, of continuing to flounder and play without a sense of urgency, the Hawks turned up the heat. They outgained the Panthers 149-34 over the final 19 minutes and scored twice.
"The win gives us a lot of energy going into the next game," Harris said. "If we keep fighting, we've got it. It's not about the ups and downs. It's all about the finish."
The finish will be smoother when the Hawks do a better job of putting the hammer down.
"We have to learn to always keep pushing and always keep scoring," Harris said. "You never know when someone can have that turning moment and come storming back."