BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—The Birmingham-Southern Panthers pulled to within four points of Millsaps as the fourth quarter began this afternoon, but the Majors would hold on for a 28-17 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference win on Senior Day in Panther Stadium on the BSC campus.
Birmingham-Southern finished the season 6-4 overall, and 3-4 in the conference. The Panthers are not eligible to compete for the conference title until 2011.
Millsaps of Jackson, Miss., finished 7-3 overall and 6-1 in league play.
Birmingham-Southern has not beaten the Majors in four tries.
Prior to the game, BSC recognized the 18 seniors on the team—the first true senior class since reinstating the football program in 2007.
The game began in a rather unusual way. Millsaps went on offense first after the opening kickoff, and on the first play of the game BSC senior linebacker David Kelley intercepted a Jordan Nolan pass and the Panthers were in business on the Majors' 18 yard line. On the very next play, however, Millsaps returned the favor when senior linebacker Will Hawkins picked off a pass from Panther sophomore quarterback Jimmy Stainback and the Majors had the ball right back, this time on their own 15.
Following the exchange of turnovers, Millsaps mounted an offensive threat, driving from its own 15 to the BSC 17 midway through the first quarter. But junior defensive back Micah Baker thwarted the threat by picking off a Garrett Pinciotti pass in the end zone. It was Baker's fifth interception of the season.
The Panthers then began a drive that would produce the game's first points. Aided by a 49-yard scamper by sophomore tailback Shawn Morris, BSC marched 65 yards to the Millsaps' 15 before settling on a 32-yard field goal by freshman kicker Ryan Laughlin. With 1:54 left in the first quarter, Birmingham-Southern led 3-0.
Millsaps would answer the BSC field goal and more on its next possession. The Majors drove 74 yards in 14 plays, with sophomore quarterback Pinciotti hitting senior fullback Chris Skinner on a three-yard scoring pass to give Millsaps a 7-3 lead with 10:46 left in the half.
Following a BSC punt, the Majors were on the move again driving to the Panther 25 before sophomore defensive back Chris Reeves picked off another Pinciotti pass at the four and returned it out to the 20 yard line.
Birmingham-Southern's offense continued to struggle and following Kyle Sebestyen's third punt of the first half, Millsaps found the end zone again in just four plays. Pinciotti hit freshman wide receiver Thomas Theriot on a 26-yard scoring pass and the Majors had extended their lead to 14-3 with 3:11 to play in the half.
The BSC offense looked to get untracked on the opening drive of the second half. Senior tailback Walter Arrington ripped off a 42-yard run on a drive that eventually stalled at the Millsaps' 16. But the Panthers could not produce points out of the drive, as Laughlin's 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
The Panthers would, however, get on the scoreboard on their next possession. The BSC defense forced a Millsaps' punt that was blocked by Reeves giving Birmingham-Southern the ball on the Majors' 27. Two plays later, Morris scored from the one and the Panthers had closed the gap to 14-10 in the third quarter.
Millsaps wasted little time extending its lead back to 11. The Majors drove 68 yards in 10 plays, with junior running back Shane Bowser scoring from the three to give Millsaps a 21-10 lead.
The see-saw second half continued as BSC took the ensuing kickoff and drove 47 yards in 10 plays. Senior quarterback Joe Thigpen entered the game on Senior Day and called his own number from the one yard line for the touchdown on the last play of the third quarter. Birmingham-Southern was within 21-17 with 15 minutes to play. Thigpen was seeing his first action since the fourth game of the season after undergoing surgery on his ankle.
The Panthers would get no closer, as Millsaps put the game out of reach with 5:59 to go in the contest as Bowser carried it in untouched from 16 yards out to push the score to the final 28-17 margin.
Birmingham-Southern drove deep into Millsaps' territory as time was winding down, but could not convert a fourth and 13 from the Majors' 21 yard line.
The Panthers were held 15 first downs and only 290 yards total offense on the day, and only 58 through the air. Arrington, the league's leading rusher, finished with 100 yards on 12 carries. Junior linebacker Dustin Massey tallied 13 total tackles on the day, and junior defensive back Andrew Shannon added nine. Birmingham-Southern picked off three passes to run its SCAC-leading total to 24.