JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The Carson-Newman College football team is on the wrong side of the record books this season, but has a chance to end a frustrating and injury-plagued season on a positive note. It all begins with the first of their final three games of the season Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium. The Eagles host Brevard College in a South Atlantic Conference match up. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Carson-Newman (3-5, 1-3 SAC) and the Tornados (3-5, 1-3 SAC) come into the game with identical records and on similar trajectories. Both teams have lost two of their last three games. The Eagles have lost two straight to non-conference North Greenville and UNC-Pembroke. Brevard fell to North Greenville last weekend and was beaten by Lenoir-Rhyne in triple overtime, 35-31 three weeks ago.
This will be the fifth meeting between the teams with the Eagles holding 4-0 advantage in the series. C-N's past dominance of the conference and 21 SAC Championships doesn't mean anything this season, according to Sparks.
"They're licking their chops, boy," Sparks said if C-N's upcoming opponents. "The mystery is gone. It's a matter of who has the heart and wants it. The psychological advantage is gone for us."
But Sparks feels this team has the heart to finish strong. Though the Eagles have been decimated by injuries, with 28 players out Saturday that would have dressed for the game, senior running back Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) and senior offensive tackle Matt Shillington (Phoenix, Ariz.) on offense, with senior defense end Zeke Andrews (Eastman, Ga.) , senior defensive end Byron Bell (Knoxville, Tenn.) , senior defensive tackle Luis Doray (Lake Worth, Fla.), senior linebacker Ryan Helton (Tazewell, Tenn.) and senior safety Blain Ruttan (Ottawa, Ontario) continue to provide leadership and will suit up Saturday.
"You always hope you've got the kind of kids that want to max their life out and get all they can out of it," Sparks said. "Football is a great laboratory of learning but you have to show up with the right ingredients. I hope they don't do something here that will cheat them later in life, as far as effort and heart and the things that make a difference in your life. We're very fortunate that we've got some great kids."
Brevard comes into the game with the best rushing offense in the SAC and the No. 5-ranked rushing offense in the country. Carson-Newman is the No. 3 rushing offense in the SAC and No. 8 in the country. Both teams primarily run a version of the option, so each defense should be well versed in assignment football come Saturday.
The Tornadoes are led by senior QB Aaron Reese who has 1,077 total yards this season, 505 on the ground and 577 through the air. Reese has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for seven more. Jack Woerner is the primary ball carrier when Reese doesn't keep it, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and scoring three TDs.
Brevard has some of the best defensive players in the country. Linebacker Prince Simunyu has amassed the 15th highest tackle count in NCAA Division II with 83. They also have two of the best pass rushers in the SAC, Christian Lumbu and Richard Ray. Lumbu has seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss this season. Ray has five sacks and 9.5 for a loss.
The Eagles two-headed backfield is led by Inman, who has 644 yards and eight TDs. Sophomore Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) has 491 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior Brandon Haywood will make his fourth consecutive start for Carson-Newman. Haywood has run for four touchdowns and thrown for one.
On defense, junior Larry Lumpkin (Grand Bay, Ala.) continues to lead the pack with 68 tackles and 6.5 for a loss. Andrews has 11 tackles for a loss, five QB hurries and 4.5 sacks.