VIDEO: Ken Sparks Press Conference
VIDEO: Brevard Highlights
VIDEO: Newberry 2015 Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Carson-Newman (3-3, 2-2 South Atlantic Conference) will try to do something that it hasn't done but once in the last decade, win at Setzler Field.
The Eagles have but one win at Newberry (5-1, 3-0 SAC) since the 2006 season, a 35-12 win at Newberry in 2010.
Newberry is running a campaign called #SellOutSetzler Saturday and hopes to break the facility's all-time attendance record of 5,100 set in 1999. The contest is the Wolves' homecoming game.
"Newberry is an extremely talented football team," Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks said. "They are big and fast, as always, and are leading the conference in a number of categories. The have proved through six ballgames that they are for real. It is going to be a good challenge and a good game. It's a chance to line up and prove some things, which is what we need to do."
The Eagles have lost their last two games at Newberry 46-21 and 47-22. However, Sparks knows C-N can overcome whatever has haunted it at Setzler Field the last two trips there.
"We could list a whole bunch of things, but they are not real," Sparks said. "They are imagined. It's not what, where, when, it's how and why is what mattered and how we play. Not where, when or who—those don't matter. We don't have control over those things. Those are variables. How we play is up to us and why we play is up to us. Are we playing for a greater cause or something deeper than just winning a ballgame? I hope so. How and why are the questions we are asking ourselves this week."
While the series between Carson-Newman and Newberry is tight at 5-3 ever since Todd Knight became the Wolves head coach in 2009, the teams have pretty much taken turns beating the ever-loving tar out of each other. Aside from Knight's first year as coach and last year's game (a 23-20 win for C-N at Mossy Creek and a 27-20 triumph for the Eagles at home), the average margin of victory has been 20.8 points. Carson-Newman leads the all-time series with the Wolves 31-20.
Newberry quarterback Raleigh Yeldell has been an ever present thorn in the side of Carson-Newman in his career. The senior is 1-3 against the Eagles but has 301 career rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 47 attempts for an average of 6.4 yards per carry and 75.25 yards per game on the ground.
Through the air, Yeldell has completed 67.9 percent of his passes all-time against Carson-Newman for 583 yards and three touchdowns (all passing touchdowns came in the first quarter of the 2014 matchup at Setzler Field). He is 53-for-78 all-time against C-N against one interception. His top passing outing came last year in defeat when he was 26-for-39 for 262 yards.
"He is a playmaker that can run and throw," Sparks said. "He enjoys having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He is not scared of making something happen. He is a really good football player and has been a thorn in our side for 103 years [laughs]. We have got to contain him, tackle him and knock a pass or two down in the process."
Newberry enters Saturday's contest on a five-game winning streak, its fifth-longest in school history and most consecutive wins since beginning the 2013 season 6-0. Newberry won 10 straight games in 2006, seven in a row in both 1924 and 1953 (a 7-7 tie with Presbyterian extended the unbeaten streak to eight games), and six in a row in 1959. Newberry also had an eight-game unbeaten streak in 1971.
Carson-Newman's newly resurgent defense will try to stop that trend. Carson-Newman tallied its first shutout of an opponent since Aug. 31, 2006 when it beat Webber International 44-0. That was 121 games and 3,691 days from the Eagles' 47-0 win over Brevard on Oct. 8. The shutout against Brevard was the Eagles' first against a member of Division II and the SAC since a 38-0 win over Tusculum in 2005 on the road.
Carson-Newman gave up 56 yards of total offense in its 47-0 win. The 56 yards of total offense are the second fewest allowed in school history. The output is sandwiched between a 35-yard day for Saint Augustine's in 2007 and an 84-yard day by Brevard in 2009. The Tornados gained 32 yards on the ground and 24 yards through the air. The 24 yards passing equates to the fourth worst passing day by a C-N opponent in school history while the 32 yards rushing are just outside the top 10 for that category.
Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) leads the SAC with three interceptions. Linebackers Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) and Lane Bloom (Knoxville, Tenn.) are both top 10 in the conference in tackles, while Bloom ranks fifth in the league for tackles for loss with eight.
The defense's performance against Brevard and Lenoir-Rhyne has vaulted the pass defense into the top 15 in the country.
"All you have to do is watch video (to know our defense hasn't fully arrived)," Sparks said. "We are on a journey of trying to improve and get better and we have a long way to go. We are still a team in the making looking to improve. We need to do what we can do and quit worrying about what other teams are doing. We need to take care of the how and the why."
It will be tested mightily against Yeldell and the Wolves. They boast the top passing attack in the SAC. Yeldell leads the SAC in 11 statistical categories, including passing yards per game (308.5). He has accounted for 78.6 percent (2,094 yards) of Newberry's 2,664 yards of total offense this season.
The Wolves have the second best offense in the SAC behind Carson-Newman's vaunted veer option. The Eagles are fourth in the nation in rushing offense with 317.7 yards per game. C-N also boasts the ninth best total offense total in the nation and the 28th best scoring offense.
The question for the Eagles this week is the quarterback position. Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) has passed for at least 200 yards in every game in which he was fully healthy. However, last week, he was held out of the Brevard game with an injury. In his stead, freshmen Tyson Herron (Bogart, Ga.) and Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) moved the offense for 508 yards in his stead.
"The two freshman quarterbacks did a pretty good job. They weren't perfect but gave us something to build on for the future," Sparks said. "We challenged the offense to take the ball and drive and on the opening drive we called one play. We said we were going to execute the one play and that's exactly what they did. That was good even though there were times it wasn't so pretty. We accomplished something we wanted to accomplish and hopefully taught ourselves that if we are able to halfway execute our bread and butter, we have a chance to read ourselves into a good play."
Kickoff between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 4 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3 p.m. with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) and Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville). The game can be found online with a free audio stream at cneagles.com/live.