JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Of all the frustrations to come from a 7-4 season in 2010, one that still stings Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks was the Eagles' inability to take care of business in Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman was a very pedestrian 3-3 at home, and struggled to find ways to win close games, losing to Winona State (Minn.) and Wingate each by a field goal in 2010.
The No. 20 Carson-Newman Eagles (1-0) hope to revert back to their three decades of dominance in Burke-Tarr Stadium on Thursday night when they host Fayetteville State (N.C.). Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Jefferson City.
Winning at home has been one of the key ingredients in C-N head coach Ken Sparks' run of 21 South Atlantic Conference championships in 31 seasons. The three losses were the most by an Eagle team in one season at Mossy Creek during the Sparks' era.
In fact, heading into 2010, Carson-Newman was 75-3 at home during the regular season dating back to 1993, a stretch that included 14 undefeated home slates.
Sparks is excited about his team's fresh start at home, provided the results are more traditional.
"The way we played at home last season really bothered me," Sparks said. "(Burke-Tarr Stadium) has been a special place for us. We've been tough to beat here, and it's been a big part of our success. We're excited to be back at the Creek and get things turned back around."
C-N plays six of its next nine games at Burke-Tarr Stadium, and if the Eagles are to get back on track at home, they will need a faster start than the opening quarter against Glenville State last week. The Eagles turned the ball over four times in the first quarter, falling behind 10-0, before ripping off 38 of the next 41 points in the game for an impressive 45-20 road win.
A big part of the mid-game surge by C-N was quarterback Johnny Foster's (Roebuck, S.C.) play. The sophomore led the Eagles to 17 second-quarter points and completed 6-of-8 passes for 128 yards in the game. He'll likely start this week after watching sophomore Jason Brown (Plant City, Fla.) get the nod at Glenville State.
"Johnny's earned the right to start this week," Sparks said of his three-man quarterback race. "He'll be out there Thursday night, but we'll keep working three guys to be ready."
Brown led a first-quarter touchdown drive to keep the Eagles off the ropes despite the turnovers. Later in the game, he snuck in at a slot receiver spot and took a Foster pass 49 yards to set up a third-quarter touchdown.
Slow start aside, Sparks was pleased with the way his team responded to the early adversity and showed toughness in taking over the middle of the game.
"I thought our leadership came through," Sparks said. "The defense hung tough after the first drive and kept us in the game. I liked what I saw from this group in camp and it has carried over. We've got to continue to build on it."
Lost in the Eagles' wild opener and continued quarterback battle has been Ken Sparks' march toward 300 career wins. He enters Thursday night's game with 295 for his career, five behind Delaware-legend Tubby Raymond for 12th all time.
To get Sparks to 296, the Eagles will need to find a way to deal with an opportunistic Fayetteville State team. The Broncos lost their opener, 33-27, to UNC Pembroke, but hung tough despite allowing over 500 yards of offense.
"They play hard and have athletes everywhere," Sparks said. "They have a few guys on defense that would play for a lot of people. They'll come in here hungry and desperate for a win."
Broncos quarterback Brandon Blumears-Cluff helped FU start fast in their opener, completing TD passes of 64 and 66 yards against Pembroke.
Carson-Newman, a week after rushing for six touchdowns against Glenville State, will hope to duplicate the success UNCP had on the ground, rushing for 266 yards last week's win.