Turnovers prove costly, Eagles drop 31-27 decision at Wingate

VIDEO: Highlights

VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview

VIDEO: Ross Pryor Interview

VIDEO: Jared Dillingham Interview

WINGATE, N.C. – Carson-Newman (2-1, 0-1 South Atlantic Conference) rallied twice but was undone by turnovers and a strong third quarter from Wingate (3-0, 1-0 South Atlantic Conference) 31-27 Saturday night at Irwin Belk Stadium.

The Eagles, who entered the contest as one of 13 teams in the country without a turnover, coughed up two fumbles and tossed an interception leading to 14 Wingate points. 

"We felt like we are a good football team as long as we don't help somebody else," head coach Mike Turner said. "Tonight, we helped someone else out tonight with turnovers and some untimely penalties.  However, I was very proud of those kids for the fight and the attitude that they showed tonight."

The see-saw battle saw the Eagles rally from an early 10-point deficit with 17-point run before the Bulldogs scored 14 unanswered and staved off a late Eagle rally to cement the win.

The first half was a tale of two quarters between the Eagles and Bulldogs.  For the third straight week, the Eagles failed to put points on the board following the opening kickoff, leading to a punt after.

BJ Muckelvene made the Eagles pay weaving his way 63 yards along the left sideline for a touchdown.  The special teams score was the first punt return that Carson-Newman had allowed to go for six for the first time in 163 games and a 2003 contest at Florida International.

The Eagles were able to respond to that possession quickly.  C-N pounded the ball down the field before Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) hit Dorren Miller (Roswell, Ga.) on a 38-yard quick slant over the middle of the field to knot the score at seven apiece.

"We have to do a better job doing the fundamental things," Turner said. "I would have liked to see us execute to keep drives alive.  Again, it took us a series or too to get cranked  up.  We have to start faster.  They did fight through some things, with this being the first road game and Wingate's first ever night game, they brought a great environment. We made enough mistakes to get ourselves beat."

From there, Wingate took control.  Sandwiched around a Carson-Newman three-and-out and a pick, Wingate found 10 more points.  First, Freddy McCollum booted a 35-yard field goal through the uprights to give Wingate the lead with 2:04 left in the first quarter.

Then, Wingate took advantage of a short field to punch it into the end zone on a 48-yard drive with a seven-yard TD pass from James Whitaker to Jay Hood along the back line of  the end zone. 

Carson-Newman woke up after that.  The Eagles first possession of the second quarter went 10 plays and 78 yards before Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) pounded the rock into the end zone on a three-yard trap play. 

The Eagles' defense then stood tall with a three-and-out.  Carson-Newman's offense took advantage with a home run ball.  Evans hit Miller on a 70-yard out-and-up along the left sideline to put Carson-Newman in front with 4:15 left in the second quarter. 

Elijah Holbert (Knoxville, Tenn.) knocked in a 40-yard field goal, the first kick of his career to put C-N up 24-17 at the half. 

However, the third quarter belonged to the Bulldogs.  C-N was limited to 25 yards of total offense and two first downs in the period while Wingate took advantage of two short fields, one aided by another lengthy Muckelvene punt return and the other by a Marcus Williams (Apopka, Fla.) fumble, to punch in two touchdowns to take the lead on drives less than 50 yards. 

Wingate tied the game with 8:49 to play in the third quarter with an 8-play, 48-yard drive capped by a Lawrence Pittman one-yard blast up the middle. 

The Bulldogs then took advantage of the Williams' fumble with a 6-play, 48-yard possession ending in a James Whitaker score to Bryan Mitchell on a flat route to the left flat that covered seven yards. 

Carson-Newman wouldn't go quietly into the dark though.  The Eagles cut the deficit to four on another Holbert field goal with 4:47 left in the fourth. 

The Eagles defense forced a three-and-out to give the offense the football back with a chance to win the game.

C-N marched down to the Wingate 45 before a potential go-ahead drive stalled out and the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs to seal the win. 

Carson-Newman dominated the final stats, outgaining the Bulldogs 434-260 in total offense.  C-N's defense limited Wingate to 112 yards rushing, more than half of what Wingate, the conference's number two rushing offense, was averaging entering the game. 

For the first time in his career, Dillingham led the Eagles on the ground.  He tallied 21 carries for 98 yards and his third touchdown of the season.  If not for a negative rush on Carson-Newman's final offensive play, Dillingham would have crested the century mark. 

Evans rushed for 50 yards, with 41 coming on an option keeper, the longest run of his career.

The Eagles' signal-caller was 11-for-24 through the air with a pick.  He tossed for a career best 213 yards and two scores. 

His favorite target was Miller, who caught six balls for 151 yards and two scores.  Miller's receiving efforts all came in the first half.  The Eagles didn't complete a pass to him after halftime. 

Miller's final tally represents Carson-Newman's fourth 150-yard receiving effort since the year 2000.  Miller joins Reggie Hubbard (who did it twice) and school-record holder TraShaun Ward as players to eclipse that mark. 

Jaysen Cook-Calhoun led the charge defensively with seven tackles and three behind the line of scrimmage. 

Pittman led Wingate on the ground with 83 yards on 22 touches.  He found the end zone once. 

Whitaker completed 13-of-22 passes for 148 yards and two scores.  Jay Hood was his favorite target, snagging four balls for 57 yards. 

"We learn to keep believing in each other," Turner said. "Both offense and defense did find ways to make plays today. It's just a matter of us putting together some untimely physical errors on a block or not being in position.  We're close."

The Eagles return home Saturday to take on Newberry at 1 p.m.  Coverage for the contest starts at noon on the Eagle Sports Network with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.

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