JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Offensive records galore fell on Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium as the 25th-ranked Carson-Newman Eagles (9-2, 5-2 SAC) rushed for 570 yards and scored 35 unanswered points to knock off South Atlantic Conference rival Tusculum (4-7, 2-6 SAC) 65-32 in each team's regular season finale.
The Eagles' 570 rushing yards were the fifth-most in Carson-Newman history while C-N tied the school record with eight touchdowns scored by way of the ground. Senior quarterback De'Andre Thomas (Milledgeville, Ga.) and freshman running back Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) each rushed for three touchdowns in the winning effort. Thomas became the first Carson-Newman signal caller to rush for over 200 yards since Alex Good did so against Newberry in 2008.
C-N complied 679 yards of total offense, which was also fifth-most in the Carson-Newman record books. The Eagles have now won seven-straight over the Pioneers; in the seven wins, Carson-Newman has averaged 55 points per game. Tusculum has not won in Jefferson City in 14 straight matches; the Pioneers last win at Mossy Creek occurred on Oct. 20th, 1934.
Midway through the third quarter, Tusculum led 32-30 before the Eagles put their foot to the pedal and sped past the Pioneers.
"We weren't playing Carson-Newman football at the beginning of the second half. Of course, give them some credit, too. I sure am grateful for a group of guys that responded like they did and continued to grow not only as football players and us grow as a team collectively, but to see them grow from the heart out," coach Ken Sparks said. "I thought there were so many times we played with heart today. It was so critical for us. I saw a lot of guys lay their heart on the line out there today. That was very, very encouraging to me."
In the first quarter, each team lit up the scoreboard once. Carson-Newman scored on the game's opening drive with a 25-yard field goal by freshman Carson Wise (Blacksburg, Va.); the Pioneers answered with a three-yard rushing touchdown by Josh Jackson on Tusculum's second drive of the contest.
The Eagles scored the next two touchdowns after rushing scores by Thomas. The teams traded field goals to put Carson-Newman ahead 20-10 with 5:51 remaining in the first half.
Tusculum embarked on a six-play, 53-yard drive that ended with a two-yard connection from quarterback Luke Lancaster to Justin Houston for the Pioneers' second touchdown of the half with 13.3 seconds left on the clock; Will Tommie missed the extra point to leave C-N ahead 20-16.
After a short kickoff from Tusculum, Carson-Newman used two quick passes to senior wide receiver TraShaun Ward (Miami, Fla.) to move within Wise's range; the freshman kicker converted his third field goal of the first half with a career-long 42-yard kick as the clock hit zeros and put the Eagles ahead 23-16 at the half.
Ken Funnye returned the second half kickoff 94 yards and Tommie's extra point was good to tie the score at 23-23 just 14 seconds into the third quarter. Funnye's return was the fifth-allowed by the Eagles' special teams this season.
After a Tommie 22-yard field goal, senior running back Damian Baker (Columbus, Miss.) took Carson-Newman's first play from scrimmage 75 yards on the ground for a score to put the Eagles ahead 30-25; the run was Baker's career-long.
Tusculum's final score of the game came with 7:01 remaining in the third quarter as Jackson rushed from two yards out for his second score of the day.
Over the final 23 minutes of play, C-N scored five rushing touchdowns with Wimbush scoring from 18, six and two yards out and Thomas and junior running back Montavious Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) each finding the end zone. Taylor's score finished the scoring with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter as the Atlanta-product sprinted up the middle from 35 yards.
Thomas and Baker nearly became the first duo in school history to rush for over 200 yards each. Thomas finished the day with 203 yards and three scores while Baker ended his day with 197 yards and one touchdown. Thomas rushed the rock 21 times to lead the team.
"They did great. Anytime you have somebody running the ball for that kind of yardage, that means you've got somebody blocking for them; not just somebody, but somebodies blocking for them," Sparks said. "At time, I thought we moved the line of scrimmage the best we have all year. Our wide receivers have been amazing how they've been blocking for each other and the running backs how they've been blocking for each other. It was a total team effort and one we are very, very grateful for."
Wimbush contributed 108 yards and three scores on 19 rushes. Taylor added 50 yards on just three rushes.
Thomas finished the day 7-of-12 through the air for 109 yards. Ward led the receivers with three receptions for 39 yards; senior Steven Isom (Alcoa, Tenn.) reeled in two receptions for 33 yards.
Junior defensive back Jason Williams (Fayetteville, Ga.) led the defense with 12 tackles, four of which were solos. Sophomore linebacker Sha'heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) tallied 10 tackles and one for a loss. Freshman end Jaysen Cook-Calhoun (Hoover, Ala.) recorded two sacks in three plays.
"Give credit to the coaches, the offensive and defensive coaches worked really hard on game plan this week. Game plan, that's all it is is a game plan, it has to be executed and it has to be executed by people playing on the field. I thought that was a group of kids that really responded to what coaches were asking them to do this week," Sparks said.
The 97 combined points were the ninth-most in the Sparks' era. The Eagles racked up 782 all-purpose yards, which were also the ninth-most in school history.
The Eagles now await their fate in regards to the NCAA Playoffs. Carson-Newman entered the week as the fourth-ranked team in Super Region 2. The field of 28 will be announced on Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.