VIDEO: Ken Sparks Interview
VIDEO: Phalen Booker Interview
VIDEO: Austin Lewis Interview
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Tusculum (4-7, 3-4 South Atlantic Conference) used a two-point conversion at the end of the first overtime period to stave off a Carson-Newman (4-7, 2-5 SAC) rally and defeat the Eagles for the first time in seven seasons with a 31-30 triumph Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field.
Quarterback Luke Lancaster completed a drag route to Sean Shippy for the two-point conversion after a Tony Belle two-yard touchdown run countered an Eagles score from Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) in the first overtime period.
"It was a sprint out where they through it to the second guy," Sparks said. "We didn't get him on the ground soon enough. Shippy made a great effort and according to the officials, he got it in the end zone and they beat us."
The loss hands Carson-Newman its lowest win total since 1978 when the Eagles went 2-8. Tusculum hadn't defeated the Eagles since 2008. Three of the Pioneers' last four wins against Carson-Newman have come by one point.
The defeat overshadows a 20-point comeback for Carson-Newman. The Eagles trailed 13-0 at the break and 20-0 with 11:08 left in the third quarter.
"We had a group of kids that wanted to show they had some heart," head coach Ken Sparks said. "There were still so many times where we could have made plays but didn't. This is at least something to build off of, especially these 19 seniors for the rest of their lives."
Carson-Newman came flying back thanks to an offense that finally got untracked and a defense that played hegemonically for six straight drives.
Tusculum took its 20-0 lead on Chavis Williams 33-yard touchdown pass from Luke Lancaster along the left sideline. However, the Eagles countered quickly. Noah Suber pounded the ball in from a yard out to finish a seven-play, 70-yard drive. Suber caught a halfback pass from Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) to help set up the Eagles inside the five. Two plays later, Suber scored.
Tusculum would push the lead back to 16 on the next possession with a Willie Tommie 33-yard field goal.
Again, the Eagles responded. This time it was Wimbush who took a two-yard trap around left guard and burrowed his way into the end zone to make it a 10-point game with 3:05 to play in the third.
After Tusculum fumbled a play away that Lane Bloom (Knoxville, Tenn.) recovered, Carson Wise (Blacksburg, Va.) blasted a 49-yard field goal through the uprights to pull the Eagles within a touchdown eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
All the while, Carson-Newman's defense was playing absurdly. After the Tommie field goal, C-N's defense forced Tusculum off the field with a quartet of three and outs. The Pioneers only picked up two first downs over their final six drives of regulation.
Carson-Newman tied it at 23 with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter when Montavious Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) hit an 18-yard rush over right guard. That finished off a quick four-play 60-yard drive.
Both the Eagles and Pioneers had opportunities to take the lead, but both squandered them away. Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) tossed an interception to Deres Benn that the Pioneers' DB returned to the Carson-Newman 20 after the Eagles had moved the ball inside Pioneer territory with under eight minutes to play.
However, the Eagles' defense once again rose to the occasion. After a holding a personal foul, followed by a Phalen Booker (Waveland, Miss.) sack, the Pioneers wound up facing a third and 49. With nothing in the playbook for such a scenario, the Pioneers punted.
Carson-Newman had the first possession of overtime and went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Pioneer 16, with Suber gaining two yards for the first down. The Eagles were set up on first-and-goal at the Tusculum 2, but back-to-back penalties pushed the Eagles back to the 11. A 10-yard run on third down by Wimbush left the Eagles with fourth-and-goal at the 1, and Dillingham went off left tackle for the go-ahead points.
Tusculum had to start its overtime possession at the 40 due to a personal foul penalty on the conversion kick, but a personal foul by the Eagles on the first play of the drive put the ball at the Carson-Newman 25. On third down, Lancaster hit Rodnell Cruell for a 20-yard gain to the Eagle 5, and Belle scored two plays later to set up the dramatic finish.
For the first time in eight seasons, Carson-Newman finishes without a 1,000-yard rusher on the year. Wimbush eclipsed the century mark for the sixth time in his career with 125 yards and a score on 24 carries. He finishes the season as the Eagles' leading rusher with 941 yards on the season.
Taylor capped his Carson-Newman career with a 100-yard performance. He tallied 111 yards on 22 touches and the game-tying score in regulation.
"Those are two great competitors," Sparks said. "I thought our offensive line grew up today. They punched some holes that needed to be punched. 90 percent of the time we played well enough to win and 10 percent of the time, we got beat."
Wimbush was Carson-Newman's leading receiver for a second straight contest. The sophomore grabbed three passes for 49 yards.
Suber hit 12-of-21 passes for 126 yards.
Jordan Shippy led the Pioneers with 81 yards on nine carries. The bulk of his work came on a 47-yard touchdown run in the first half. Rodnell Cruel was Luke Lancaster's top target. He snared five catches for 81 yards.
Carson-Newman outgained the Pioneers 459-330 in total offense. C-N had 310 yards on the ground.
Jarvis Green (Oviedo, Fla.) led the Eagles' defense with a career-best 14 tackles. He had a half sack and 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"Johnny Long's already developing some strength programs for us in the offseason," Sparks said. "We'll meet Monday morning and be making some plans for what's next."
For the latest offseason updates on Carson-Newman football, routinely check cneagles.com. Pertinent information is also released in a timely fashion to both the @cnathletics and @cnfootball Twitter accounts.