JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The Carson-Newman College football team welcomes an old foe to Burke-Tarr Stadium this Saturday. South Atlantic Conference rival Catawba comes to Mossy Creek to take on the Eagles in a key game for both teams.
Carson-Newman (2-3, 0-3 SAC) is in a rare situation heading into the game, four-decade rare.
The Eagles are winless over the first three conference games for the first time in the 32-year Ken Sparks era. Catawba (2-3, 1-1 SAC) bounced back from two disastrous weeks to open the season, scoring a total of just eight points against St. Augustine's and Coastal Carolina, before reeling off two big wins over Tusculum and UNC-Pembroke.
"They (Catawba) have gone the opposite way as us," Sparks said. "They went slow, then picked it up. They're on a roll right now. They're playing as good as anybody in the conference."
The Eagles lead the series decisively with a record of 34-9-1 against the Catawba. The Indians' last win over Carson-Newman was in 2007 in a 55-49 shootout, the Eagles' only loss of the season. That loss cost Carson-Newman a playoff spot under the old postseason alignment and since then they've made Catawba pay, winning the last three contests and topping 40 points twice.
The Eagles will have to try to keep the streak going without the services of starting quarterback Johnny Foster (Roebuck, S.C.). Foster injured his right ankle against Wingate last Saturday and will miss one game. Foster is just one more injury on an ever-increasing list for Carson-Newman. The offense is missing seven opening-day starters and the defense has lost three since the season began.
"It's interesting how many kids we've had to pull out of redshirt," Sparks said. "I think we've got a group of kids that are determined to max this thing out and turn it into a great story."
Stepping in for Foster will be redshirt junior Brandon Haywood. Haywood has bided his time behind both former quarterbacks Alex Good and Doug Belk and will finally get his chance to lead the Eagles offense.
Haywood will have a few emerging playmakers at his disposal. The Eagles, in last week's lost, discovered an effective passing game with junior wide receiver Patrick Miller and freshman Anthony Eubanks hauling in multiple big catches in the comeback attempt.
Haywood still has All-SAC runner Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) in the backfield along with sophomore Tyron Douglas. Inman is averaging 5.8 yards-per carry this season and scored five touchdowns. Douglas is a dual threat, with two touchdowns on the ground and one on a kick return.
The Eagles boast the No. 12-ranked pass defense in the country, led by junior linebacker Larry Lumpkin leads the defense with 39 tackles, four coming for a loss. Sophomore linebacker Jaycob Coleman is second with 27 tackles and a pick. Senior defensive end Zeke Andrews has 2.5 sacks, three QB hurries and 6.5 tackles for a loss.
Carson-Newman will rely on Andrews, who had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble last week, to keep the Indians offense off the field as the Eagles try to find an offensive rhythm. Catawba scored only one touchdown in its opening three games, before exploding for 42 points against UNC Pembroke last week.
Catawba is led by junior quarterback Jacob Charest. Charest, an Illinois transfer, is averaging almost 180 yards a game through the air and has tossed four touchdowns this season. Charest can be careless with the ball, with five interceptions.
The Indians are giving up nearly three turnovers per game and Charest has been sacked 11 times. Catawba is averaging a little over 17 points per game.
Running back Josh Wright leads the Indians in rushing with 359 yards and two scores. Defensively linebacker Cory Johnson has 45 tackles with five for a loss and two sacks. Defensive end Damien Lee already has five sacks this season. Catawba has the No. 2-ranked rushing defense in NCAA Division II.
RADIO: The game will be broadcast locally on the flagship station for Carson-Newman Football, WRJZ-AM 620 (Knoxville) and on WPFT-FM 106.3 (Sevierville). A pay-per-view video webcast will be available on www.cneagles.com.