VALDOSTA, Ga. – The Carson-Newman Eagles (9-3) fell to the Valdosta State Blazers (10-2) by a score of 48-26 in the quarterfinals of the 2012 NCAA Division II Football Championship at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After leading 20-14 at halftime, the Eagles were outscored 34-6 in the second half as the Blazers clinched a berth into the national semifinals with the victory.
"We fought hard," said Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks. "We've got a group of kids that have great heart. We're not as good as a lot of teams in the country in 'inches and pounds' but we've got a lot of heart. I'm really proud of these guys and what they accomplished this year."
After Carson-Newman's first drive ended with a Curt Duncan (Morristown, Tenn.) 27-yard field goal, Valdosta State scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to lead 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The Eagles grabbed the momentum in the second half with a 15-play, 97-yard drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown rush for Andy HIbbett (Corryton, Tenn.) to cut the Blazer lead to 14-10 with 7:11 left in the quarter. After the Eagles forced Valdosta State to go three-and-out on the next drive, Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) rushed for a 32-yard touchdown run on Carson-Newman's first play of the drive to give the Eagles a 17-14 advantage with 5:44 left before halftime.
Valdosta State's next drive ended when Carson-Newman's Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.) intercepted a Cayden Cochran pass and returned it to the Blazer 22-yard line. Duncan added his second field goal of the half to give the Eagles a 20-14 lead with 3:27 before halftime. Carson-Newman maintained that lead after a goal-line stand, holding off the Blazers on a fourth and goal at the one-yard line, giving the Eagles a six-point halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, the first Eagle drive ended in Duncan's longest field goal of the day, a 42-yard kick that put the lead at 23-14. Cochran connected with Seantavious Jones on a 37-yard touchdown pass for Valdosta State that ended Carson-Newman's 20-0 run and cut the Eagle lead to 23-21. Carson-Newman's next drive ended in Duncan's fourth field goal from 22 yards out to put the lead at 26-21 with 8:09 left in the third quarter.
Duncan's field goal would be the last points of the day for Carson-Newman. The Blazers took the lead on their next drive with Cochran completing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chris Anderson to give Valdosta a 28-26 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Blazers extended their advantage with a Cedric O'Neal three-yard touchdown rush, yet the point-after attempt was no good, putting the score at 34-26 with 11:50 remaining in the game. After the Eagles could not convert on third and nine on their next drive, Carson-Newman attempted a fake punt with a direct snap to Hibbett, yet he was stopped for a one yard gain to give the ball back to Valdosta at the Carson-Newman 32 yard line.
Despite the short field, the Carson-Newman stood tall on defense for the next three plays before Valdosta State chose to go for the first down on fourth and seven. The Eagles had a strong pass rush on Cochran, but he scrambled and hit an open Quin Roberson in the endzone for a 29-yard touchdown pass that would give the Blazers a 41-26 lead with just over eight minutes remaining.
The Blazers added their final touchdown on their next drive when O'Neal rushed for a 16-yard touchdown to put the score at 48-26, which would be the final score.
Carson-Newman rushed the ball for 362 on offense, while completing two passed for 30 yards through the air, accumulating in 392 yards of total offense. Baker led all Eagle rushers with 155 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) carried the ball 14 times for 124 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per carry.
Quarterback Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.) gained 42 yards on the ground, and was 2-of-9 passing for 30 yards. Cornerback Oliver Davis (Acworth, Ga.) led Carson-Newman's defense with seven tackles, with all stops
The 2012 season ends with a 9-3 record for the Eagles. After beginning the season 2-2, Carson-Newman went on a seven-game winning-streak before Saturday's loss to Valdosta State in the national quarterfinals. This is the furthest the Eagles have gone in the postseason since 2009 when Carson-Newman advanced to the national semifinals.
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