VIDEO: Ken Sparks Interview
VIDEO: Dan Gallman Interview
VIDEO: Sha'Heem Stupart Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Five turnovers and a lack of execution on a pair of second half drives halted Carson-Newman's (3-5, 2-4 South Atlantic Conference) hopes for a comeback bid in a 29-16 loss to Wingate (7-1, 4-1 SAC) Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks pointed to his squad's effort as a positive in the face of a lack of execution.
"The positive side is our kids played with a lot of heart," Sparks said. "They didn't quit. They didn't back down right until the last horn. They played their hearts out. I'm proud of that and they can build on that for the rest of their lives. And we can continue for three more ballgames to try to build on as a football team.
"We're struggling to play good football. It really is bothersome, but we'll get something good out of it."
Carson-Newman grabbed a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 27-yard Carson Wise (Blacksburg, Va.) field goal, but then the wheels came off.
Within a span of a little over six minutes of game action, Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) was intercepted twice, while a center-to-quarterback exchange resulted in another turnover. With four turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the game, Wingate had itself a 20-3 lead with 14 points off turnovers with 10 minutes to play in the second quarter.
"We're beating ourselves," Sparks said. "We're making a lot of mistakes. We're just not getting it done. It's that deal where our freshmen offensive linemen struggled today and maybe a couple of seniors struggled today. We put Noah (Suber) in a bad position because he doesn't get to see how it's supposed to look because we're not getting blocked how it's supposed to look."
Wingate scored its first touchdown on a Blake Hayes 17-yard scamper on a stretch play off right tackle. The Bulldogs took advantage of the Eagles' fumble with a 33-yard TD connection from Kyle Johnson to Domineke McNeill. Hayes grabbed his second score of the day on a seven-yard power drive up the middle to set the score at 20-3 on a drive set up by Tim Longmire's interception of Suber.
Carson-Newman went three-and-out on its final two drives of the second quarter. Following a Jonathan King (Knoxville, Tenn.) punt, the Bulldogs pushed the lead to 26-3 after a nine-play, 80-yard possession ended with yet another Hayes TD, this one from two yards away.
The Eagles wouldn't go quietly though.
"Second half, we improved a lot," Sparks said. "We played better. Defensively we started off playing pretty good, but we were on the field so long. We're so thin defensively, position wise, that it makes it tough. They had the ball almost right at 18 minutes in the first half. The problem is one thing makes another thing harder to get done. We've got to have 11 people doing it at the same time."
Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) tallied his fourth interception of the season midway through the second quarter then Lane Bloom (Knoxville, Tenn.) grabbed his first pick of the season on the second play of the third quarter.
The Eagles marched the ball 35 yards for Suber to sneak into the end zone.
After the Eagle defense forced Wingate off the field with a three-and-out, one of six on the day for the Bulldogs, C-N's offense clicked back into gear. Jamal Jones (Chattanooga, Tenn.) snaked 43 yards on a screen pass to set up a second Suber TD sneak that brought the Eagles within 10 after a two-point conversion failed.
Wingate tagged on a 26-yard Caleb Baird field goal with 18 seconds left in the third quarter to extend the Bulldogs' lead back to 13.
In need of potent possessions from its offense, the Eagles sputtered with back-to-back three-and-outs.
"We had two or three situations where we had a little bit of roll going offensively, but we couldn't get the ball back and get the defense off the field," Sparks said. "We'll keep working on it. I tell you what, we'll end up winning life. We lost the ballgame, but we'll win life if these guys show that kind of heart. We'll be OK.
"We had a chance to come back and make it a ballgame. We didn't execute at times to win the ballgame."
Wingate salted the rest of the contest away with a beefy 18-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a blocked field goal, but more importantly for the Bulldogs, erased 10:18 from the clock.
Bulldogs' running back Blake Hayes tallied 186 yards on 42 carries, the most ever by an opposing running back.
Jones led the Eagles' on the ground with 68 yards on five carries. Suber was 8-for-22 through the air for 176 yards. His counterpart for the Bulldogs Kyle Johnson hit 13-of-24 passes for 196 yards.
The Eagles defense was led by Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) and his 13 tackle. Ross Pryor (Kingsland, Texas) notched a career high with 12 tackles. Lane Bloom had his fourth career 10-tackle performance with a 10-stop day.
The loss means C-N has three home losses for the first time since the 2010 season. The Eagles lost at home that year to Wingate, Lenoir-Rhyne and Winona State.
Carson-Newman is guaranteed a losing record in the South Atlantic Conference for the first time since 2011 and the third since 1980.
King connected on a 73-yard punt, tied with Dallas Cowboys kicker Chris Jones for the second longest punt in school history.
The Eagles tossed three interceptions in a game for the first time since Sept. 25, 2010 at UNC Pembroke.
Carson-Newman finishes out its home slate Oct. 29 with homecoming against Limestone. Kickoff against the Saints is set for 3 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 2 with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.