VIDEO: Ken Sparks Interview
VIDEO: Sha'Heem Stupart Interview
VIDEO: Jamal Jones Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – In a game featuring three ties and three lead changes, No. 7 Humboldt State grabbed the lead for good with 44 seconds left to win an offensive slugfest with No. 13 Carson-Newman 52-45 under rainy skies Thursday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Ja'Quan Gardner, last year's runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, scored the game-winning TD on after bouncing off a tackle and finding the end zone on a 39-yard run with 44 ticks left on the clock.
The Eagles committed a whopping 18 penalties for 145 yards on the day. Both stats rank as the top marks for the football program since the year 2000. The 2012 team was penalized 15 times against Mars Hill. In 2013, also against Mars Hill, the Eagles racked up 134 yards of penalties.
"We showed our youth and inexperience in places today," head coach Ken Sparks said. "It seemed like it was one of those deals where we never could get over the hump. We'd get the ball with the game time and we never could get the lead. We never could execute on both sides of the ball when we needed to most. The problem was the head coach. I wasn't ready to coach this ball game and didn't do a very good job at all. I commend Humboldt State, they did a good job, but you can't win ball games with 150 yards of penalties."
Carson-Newman and Humboldt State combined to roll up 1,198 yards of total offense. The Eagles piled on 672 of those yards, the eighth highest single-game total in school history. Humboldt State featured 526 yards of offense.
The Eagles' veer-option revved into gear with a 464-yard rushing performance. Meanwhile, Humboldt State's aerial attack did the job. Robert Webber was 24-for-33 through the air for 380 yards and three scores.
However, Sparks indicated the difference game came early when Humboldt State blocked a punt midway through the first quarter en route to building a 17-7 lead.
"Getting a punt blocked was the worst thing in the whole game," Sparks said. "It was the snowball that started things rolling downhill."
Sparks was quick to praise his players for rebounding from the adversity to compete to the end.
"Our kids played hard today. I have no complaints about their heart or their effort," Sparks said. "There was just something wrong with how they well were coached and how we executed some times. But we'll get better. We'll make something happen, we really will."
Carson-Newman came close to having its second ever day with four, 100-yard rushers. Both Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) and Jamal Jones (Chattanooga, Tenn.) both set career highs with 148 and 130-yard performances, respectively. Montavious Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) came a yard shy of the century mark with 99 yards on 16 carries. Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) had a gross of 110 yards, but lost 23 yards on sacks to finish with an 87-yard day.
Both Wimbush and Jones had a pair of scores on the ground. Jones also housed a 70-yard screen pass.
Lonnie Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.) led the Eagles receivers with five catches for 33 yards. While Jones had the lead in yards thanks to his 70-yard TD, the longest passing touchdown for the Eagles since Justin Long had a 77-yarder for the Eagles against Concord in 2007.
Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) had 14 tackles to lead the defense.
Gardner was the primary spark plug for the HSU offense, pounding out 138 yards and three scores on 29 carries. Eight different Lumberjacks caught passes, led by Chase Krivashei and his five catches for 69 yards and a score.
Carson-Newman got the scoring started with a bang as Wimbush found paydirt on an 80-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage. The 80-yard TD is the Eagles' first since Solomon Duanah went 82 yards to score on the second play from scrimmage at Newberry in 2012 (coincidentally, also a C-N loss).
The teams pounded out the points in the first half with HSU taking a 31-28 lead into the lockeroom. Out of the Eagles' four first half scores, three were 65 yards or longer.
Carson-Newman tied the game midway through the third quarter when Carson Wise (Blacksburg, Va.) nailed a 41-yard field goal.
However, that tie would be short-lived. Two minutes and 16 seconds later, Webber hit Krivashei on a 35-yard pass along the left sideline to push the Jacks back in front.
The Eagles threw a punch back when Jamal Jones burst through a hole over left guard for a 20-yard touchdown run 2:26 later to cap off an eight-play, 84-yard possession.
Headed to the fourth, Humboldt State again grabbed the lead when its Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Gardner went a yard off-tackle to push the lead back to a touchdown.
Carson-Newman countered with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter. Suber initially fumbled the ball on an exchange at the HSU 22, picked the ball back up, wiggled his way out of a horde of defenders much like Jon Snow rising from the muck of a pitched battle and escaped for a 22-yard score.
That tied the game at 45, but that tie would be broken with less than a minute to play. Gardner's game-winning score went straight ahead, he bounced off a tackler, took it down the right sideline and housed it from 39 yards away to put HSU up for good.
Carson-Newman returns to action Saturday, Sept. 10 at St. Augustine's. Kickoff from Raleigh, N.C. is set for 1 p.m. Coverage of the game will be available on the Eagle Sports Network with a noon AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.