BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—The Birmingham-Southern College Panthers open the 2011 football season at LaGrange College Sept. 3, eligible for a conference championship and postseason play. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Eastern time in Callaway Stadium in LaGrange, Ga.
For the first time since football returned to BSC in 2007 after a 68-year hiatus, the Panthers are eligible to compete for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. The college was notified in July that it had been approved for full membership in the NCAA Division III after a five-year reclassification process.
"There is a special excitement among our team this year. We've been playing for our school pride the past five seasons, and this year we can play for a conference championship and a chance for postseason play," said fourth-year Head Coach Eddie Garfinkle. "It will not be easy as our conference is always tough, but at least we can now set as a team goal a conference championship."
Garfinkle returns six starters on offense, eight on defense, and both kicking specialists from a squad that finished the 2010 season 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the SCAC. It was the Panthers' first winning season since the return of football.
The BSC offense will be led by junior tailback Shawn Morris, who rushed for 626 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and junior quarterback Jimmy Stainback, who received considerable playing time in 2010 after senior quarterback Joe Thigpen went down with an ankle injury. Stainback passed for 439 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another 322 yards and four scores. Morris was the fourth leading rusher and fourth in scoring in the SCAC last season.
The Panthers led the league in scoring offense last season, averaging 34.6 points per game, and in rushing offense at 254 yards per contest.
Defensively, the Panthers return six of their top eight tacklers from a year ago, including the top two in senior safety Andrew Shannon (68 total tackles) and senior linebacker Dustin Massey (65 total tackles). Shannon had five of BSC's league-leading 24 interceptions in 2010.
In the kicking game, sophomore placekicker Ryan Laughlin, who made seven of nine fields goals and 35 of 37 extra point attempts, returns, as does senior punter Kyle Sebestyen, who averaged 34.6 yards per kick last season.
The LaGrange Panthers return seven starters on offense and six on defense from a team that finished last season with a 3-7 record, including a 28-19 defeat at the hands of Birmingham-Southern in BSC's Panther Stadium. Returning on offense are receivers Riley Hill, a senior, and R.J. Miles, a junior, who combined for 81 catches and four touchdowns last season. On defense, leading tackler senior Josh Clinton returns at defensive back.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools, with LaGrange leading the all-time series 2-1.
BSC will open the home portion of its 2011 schedule Sept. 10 when it hosts Huntingdon College of Montgomery in the annual Wesley Cup game at 1 p.m. in Panther Stadium. Birmingham-Southern football will feature live video streaming Internet broadcasts for all four of its home games this season.