HICKORY, N.C. – The No. 18 Carson-Newman Eagles (10-3) fell to the No 14. Lenoir-Rhyne Bears (11-1) by a score of 27-20 in the second round of the 2013 NCAA DII Football Playoffs in front of 4,146 fans at Moretz Stadium on a chilly Saturday afternoon.
Despite having a 20-10 halftime lead, the Bears outscored the Eagles 17-0 in the second half to collect the victory, the second of the 2013 season for Lenoir-Rhyne over Carson-Newman.
"I take my hat off to Lenoir-Rhyne's staff and players for how they came back under some tough circumstances," said Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks. "We're not ready to end the season and quit playing, but we through playing. We're grateful for the year that we've had and I'm personally grateful for a group of young ones and 25 seniors that have invested so much in this program."
After Curt Duncan (Morristown, Tenn.) gave C-N a 3-0 lead with a season-long 48-yard field goal, the Bears quickly responded as quarterback Trevarrius Jones ran for a 68-yard touchdown, and with the point-after attempt the Bears led the Eagles 7-3 with 8:04 left in the first quarter. The Eagles marched 74 yards downfield on the next drive, ending in a De'Andre Thomas (Milledgeville, Ga.) quarterback sneak from the one-yard line to put the Eagles back in front 10-7 with three and a half minutes left in the first quarter, and that would be the score at the end of the first 15 minutes.
Duncan hit his second field goal of the day, a 26-yard kick, with 12:20 left in the second quarter to extend Carson-Newman's lead to 13-7.
After the Eagles forced the Bears to go three-and-out, Carson-Newman used a heavy ground attack to move the ball down the field and wear out the clock through the mid-portion of the second quarter. On 3rd and inches at the L-R 19 yard line, Thomas passed to tight end James Phillips for a touchdown, and following the point-after Carson-Newman's lead was at 20-7 with 5:29 before halftime. The completion was the first to a C-N tight end since the 2012 season.
The Bears added a Zach Neumann 46-yard field goal at the end of the half to put the halftime score at: Carson-Newman 20, Lenoir-Rhyne 10. The Eagles outgained the Bears in total offense 297-138, with 206 yards coming on the ground for Carson-Newman.
Neumann accounted for the next L-R score as he nailed a 47-yard field goal to cut Carson-Newman's lead to 20-13 with 6:15 left in the third quarter.
Just before the end of the third quarter, third-string Lenoir-Rhyne quarterback Josh Justice capped a 13-play, 31-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run, and with the point-after the game was tied at 20 through three quarters.
Carson-Newman's first drive in the fourth quarter saw the Eagles convert on a third-and-long with a 37-yard completion from Thomas to TraShaun Ward. The ground game, specifically runs by Andy Hibbett, helped the Eagles get to the two-yard line, yet Carson-Newman couldn't get into the end zone. The Bears then blocked a Duncan 22-yard field goal attempt, and took over at their own eight-yard line with 10:13 to play.
Following the block, the Bears had an 11-play, 92-yard drive that took just over five minutes off the clock and ended with Justice hitting wide receiver Grayson Wells on a 10-yard touchdown pass, as the Bears took a 27-20 lead with 4:49 to play.
Carson-Newman's next drive stalled on an intentional grounding penalty on Thomas, and the Eagles punted back to the Bears with 2:53 to play. The Bears kept the ball on the ground and ran out the clock on Carson-Newman, collecting the 27-20 victory.
Senior running back Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) carried the ball 15 times for 77 yards, and in the first quarter went over the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the season, he is only the third back-to-back 1,000 yard rusher in school history.
Thomas finished the game passing 13-for-25 with 144 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 16 times for 81 yards and a score. He finished the season tied for fourth for the Carson-Newman single-season rushing touchdown record with 20 scores.
"We really thought we were going to win this ballgame," Sparks said. "We just know this – we serve a great God that's got all the answers that we're looking for. So we just have to trust him as he helps us grow with this and develop with this into a deeper faith. That's what I'm looking forward to. We're going to anxiously stretch our necks to see what God has next for us. Really proud of this football team and some of the personal growth I've experienced this year with these guys."
Fans are encouraged to stay in touch with the Carson-Newman football program throughout the offseason by visiting www.cneagles.com for the latest news and information on Eagle football.