VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Sha'Heem Stupart Interview
VIDEO: Darvia DuBose Interview
VIDEO: Jared Dillingham Interview
VIDEO: Desmond Fairell Interview
GAFFNEY, S.C. – Bolstered by a trio of second half turnovers, Carson-Newman (4-2, 2-2 South Atlantic Conference) rode a quality defensive effort to a 31-20 win over Limestone (3-3, 2-1 SAC) Saturday night at The Reservation.
Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) provided for the two most spectacular moments with a leaping interception and a one-on-one grip and rip forced fumble and recovery that set up a game-sealing field goal.
The win was the first for the Eagles on the road in nearly a calendar year. The win also knocked Limestone from the ranks of the unbeaten in league play. Carson-Newman last won on the road 364 days and four games ago in a 42-0 win on Oct. 8, 2016 at Brevard.
"It was a game of two halves," head coach Mike Turner said. "We both made some big plays and then you flip it to the second half and our defense, boy were they first class. They were in attack mode. I loved to see their excitement and their ability to make turnovers happen."
In addition to Fairell's two wunderkind turnovers, Jordan Pryce (Dorman, S.C.) and Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) also both produced turnovers. Pryce recovered a bobbled snap while Williams kept the Saints out of the end zone with a pick at the goal line.
"That goes back to expecting to make big plays," Turner said. "They made big individual plays because there were 10 other guys who were in a position to make things happen."
Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) became the first Eagle with 16 tackles in 44 games, nearly matching Jaycob Coleman's 17-tackle effort from a 2013 win against Tusculum.
Carson-Newman's defense weathered a scrappy Limestone offense that put up 199 yards of total offense in the first half. Before locking down the Saints for 33 yards in the third quarter.
After the teams exchanged punts, Carson-Newman got its offense untracked on possession number two. Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) showed flash and dash on a 38-yard touchdown run Dillingham was gummed up five yards down field, but bruised his way through a tackle and then raced 38-yards for the initial score.
Limestone countered with a bruising 6:08 drive to knot things up with 3:42 left in the first quarter. Deondre Basket snared a four-yard score from Ivan Corbin in the back of the end zone to polish off the 11-play, 75-yard possession.
Carson-Newman then threw the next punch. This time, quarterback Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) punctuated an 83-yard possession by finding South Carolina-native Darvia DuBose (Darlington, S.C.) on a 54-yard out-and-up route that DuBose polished off for the score that put C-N up 14-7.
A sack by Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) forced Limestone into a field goal on its next possession after the Saints had marched inside the Eagles' red zone. Saints' kicker Nick Smith converted on a 42-yard boot to pull the Saints within four with 12:03 left in the second quarter.
The Eagles went three-and-out on their next possession to set up the Saints with a short field.
Limestone took advantage of a facemask penalty on the possession as well, and Jerko'ya Patton ran the ball in for six on a wildcat run to give the Saints the edge.
It would be short-lived. The Eagles used a 51-yard pass to Trevor Makarov (Ann Arbor, Mich.) to set up inside the Saints' 10-yard-line. Five plays later, Evans called his own number on a three-yard option keeper to put Carson-Newman back on top 21-17.
Safety Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) made a massive interception at the goalline on Limestone's final possession of the half to preserve the lead with the Saints getting the football to start the second half.
The Eagles then pounced on a Saints miscue to start the second half but couldn't capitalize. Pryce pounded on a muffed snap by Cody Meree. However, the Eagles missed a 47-yard field goal to maintain their four-point lead.
"We had some frustration in the second half, and a big part of that was me, the head coach," Turner said. "I was coaching frustrated. I apologized to them in the lockerroom. But, we took care of the football, and I thought that was the biggest key to this game."
The Saints pulled within three when they took advantage of a short field following a penalty on a punt return on their third possession of the half. C-N did stiffen to force a 37-yard field goal from Marshall transfer Nick Smith.
That pulled the Indians within one. After the Eagles turned it over on downs twice, once via a failed fake punt and a second time when Limestone stuffed the Eagles at the one on a goal line stand.
Carson-Newman finally pushed through for a score following a Limestone punt with 8:43 to play.
Evans bulled his way into the end zone on an eight-yard option keeper around the right side of the line that saw him knock a Saint defender back into the end zone. Elijah Holbert's (Knoxville,Tenn.) ensuing PAT made it an eight-point game.
Limestone looked to be in position to tie the game with a march down the field; however, Fairell's rip sealed the deal for the Eagles. He returned the recovery down to the Limestone five with 2:04 to play. Four plays later, Holbert connected on a 24-yard boot to make it a two score game and clinch the victory to spoil Limestone's homecoming.
"This says a lot about how they've grown up," Turner said. "About three weeks ago, these frustrations would have been a problem. Tonight, it wasn't a problem because they found a way to get it done. Defense saved me when I tried the fake on the punt. It wasn't good, but boy did the defense come to rally after I was looking for a shovel for myself."
With the win, Carson-Newman has won eight of the last nine games it has played as team's homecoming opponent.
Stupart's 16 tackles led all players. He also had a sack and a tackle for loss. Pryce and Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) had nine tackles and eight tackles, respectively, playing in their home state. Fairell had seven tackles to go along with his forced fumble, fumble recovery and pick.
Fairell is the first Eagle with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pick in one game since Stupart pulled it off against Shorter in week two of 2015.
Dillingham led the Eagles ground game, which piled up 239 yards as a team. Dillingham rushed for a career-high 22 times for 122 yards and a score.
Diatae Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) came six yards shy of his first ever 100-yard rushing performance with 94 yards on 13 carries. Evans added 20 yards and two scores on 12 carries.
DuBose tallied his second career 100-yard receiving performance with five catches for 100 yards and a score.
Patton led Limestone with 135 yards rushing and a score. Patton's 135 yards rushing are the most for an individual against the Eagles this season. The Saints 178 yards rushing are also the most the Eagles have allowed this season.
Ivan Corbin completed 18-of-27 passes for 170 yards. Vyncint Smith, Basket and D'Anta Fleming each had at least 40 yards receiving.
The Eagles head back on the road Oct. 14 with a road trip to Mars Hill. Kickoff from Meares Stadium is set for 1 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.