JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Carson-Newman College head coach Ken Sparks took one more step towards history Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium. With a 35-27 victory over South Atlantic Conference rival Tusculum College, Sparks is now just one win away from reaching 300 career victories.
Sparks, in his 32nd season, is vying to be only the 12th man in NCAA history to reach the 300 mark. He can thank his senior running back Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) for making it possible against the Pioneers. Inman recorded the fifth best rushing day in C-N history, piling up 280 yards and two touchdowns against the Pioneers.
The win evens Carson-Newman's season record at 5-5 and their SAC record at 3-3. Tusculum is 2-8 on the season and 1-5 in the conference.
The Eagles used a 23-play, 85-yard drive in the fourth quarter to preserve its 35-27 lead late. The drive took 11:11 off the clock as the Eagles drove the length of the field before Andy Hibbett was ruled down while reaching for the goalline on fourth and goal from the one. Tusculum would take over inside the one with only 35 seconds to play, needing 99 yards to tie the game. An interception by Oliver Davis ended the threat and game deep in Tusculum territory.
Carson-Newman's victory sets up a showdown with historical and playofff implications against Mars Hill (7-2, 5-1 SAC) next Saturday. A win not only gives Sparks his 300th, but could also damage the Lions' playoff and SAC title chances. Mars Hill is currently ranked No. 2 in the Southeastern Region and is tied atop the conference standings with Lenoir-Rhyne (6-3, 5-1 SAC).
Inman's 280 yards Saturday gives him 1,004 for the year, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Inman wasted no time in getting his day started. On his first touch of the game, the senior running back broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
After Tusculum re-took the lead on a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Torrey Slaven, Inman teamed up with sophomore Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) on Carson-Newman's next possession. Douglas powered in from three yards out to give the Eagles a 14-13 lead thanks to a missed extra point from Pioneers freshman kicker Logan Cornelius.
Inman nearly matched his previous TD run to open the second quarter, racing 62 yards down the middle of the field for the score.
Tusculum tried to answer back with a lengthy 10-play drive down to the C-N nine yard-line, but Pioneers running back Brandon Marshall was stopped for an 11-yard loss on fourth-and-one by C-N sophomore linebacker Jonathan Sites (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and junior free safety Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.).
This time it was Douglas who crossed more than half the length of the field on his way to the end zone, covering 61 yards to put the Eagles up 28-13.
Another fourth down stop for the Eagles' defense, this time with a sack from junior Deshon Collins (Birmingham, Ala.) and sophomore Jonathan Gibson-Green (Sugarhill, Ga.) on fourth-and-seven at the C-N 35.
Douglas left the game with an injured ankle and was replaced by freshman Andy Hibbett (Corryton, Tenn.), who capped the drive with a 7-yard TD run. Douglas finished the game with eight carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Hibbett carried 10 times for 35 yards.
Tusculum pulled within two scores before the half ended with a 39-yard TD pass from Slaven to wide receiver Rashaad Carter. Carter caught eight passes for 143 yards.
Disaster struck C-N on its opening drive of the second half. Tusculum defensive lineman Dameon Herring stripped the ball from Eagles junior QB Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.) and linebacker Boomer Brown returned it 26 yards to the C-N four yard-line.
Pioneers running back Marcus Foster took the ball in the final four yards for the touchdown.
Tusculum never scored another point as the Carson-Newman defense forced four turnovers, including three Slaven interceptions in the second half. Before Saturday, Slaven had gone 180 pass attempts without a pick.
C-N junior cornerback Oliver Davis (Acworth, Ga.) ended the game on a pick off a deflection in the final seconds, allowing Haywood and the Eagles offense to end the game in victory formation.
Junior linebacker Larry Lumpkin (Grand Bay, Ala.) led the Eagles defense with nine tackles, one for a loss. Tusculum defensive end Terrence Smith had a monster day, recording 17 tackles and one for a loss.