VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Derrick Evans Interview
VIDEO: Jared Dillingham Interview
VIDEO: Phil McDowell Interview
VIDEO: Antonio Henderson Interview
MARS HILL, N.C. – Carson-Newman (5-2, 3-2 South Atlantic Conference) tallied its best offensive day in 2017 en route to a third straight win and a 31-20 triumph over Mars Hill (2-5, 1-4 SAC) Saturday afternoon at Meares Stadium.
The Eagles rolled up 565 yards of total offense and 420 yards rushing in the victory; both figures are season highs. The win gives Carson-Newman six straight wins against the Lions, in every game, the Eagles have rushed for at least 420 yards. The loss was the Lions fourth straight this year.
"I like the heart of this team, I've said that from day one and nothing has happened to change that," head coach Mike Turner said. "Hopefully, we'll get to a point here soon where we can play four quarters and finish complete. It looked like we were headed for that, but give credit to Mars Hill for making some plays to get back into things. Our kids are excited about winning, and it's thrilling to head back to Mossy Creek next week for homecoming with two wins."
Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) led the charge on the ground with a career-best 196 yards on a career-best 24 carries. He averaged 8.2 yards a tote and found the end zone once.
"He's got a triple-XL heart," Turner said. "What a great kid, and what a gutty performance today. He gave great effort rushing the football today and he gave us that and that allowed us to open some stuff up in the passing game."
Dillingham's rushing effort is the biggest single-game day for an Eagle since 2015 when Damian Baker and De'Andre Thomas ran wild on Tusculum in the regular season finale. That was 700 days ago. Thomas had 203 yards that day and Baker 197.
Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) added 99 yards on the ground with 9.9 yards a touch on 10 carries. He also completed 10-of-16 passes for 145 yards and two scores. He did lose a fumble in the fourth quarter, the only turnover of the day for either team.
"Derrick showed some good athleticism today," Turner said. "We had a conversation about his fumble. We had a conversation about that one series, but that was a good learning lesson from it. He's really turning into something as he matures and his football IQ increases."
Diantae Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) added 72 yards and his second rushing touchdown of the year on 16 carries.
Carson-Newman used a dominant first half to grab a 16-point lead at the halftime break.
After punting on its first possession, the Eagles began to pound the ball against the Lions. Carson-Newman got things started with a 7-play, 65-yard drive that saw Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) power into the end zone on a five-yard dive play on fourth and one. The Eagles lead 7-0 with 7:27 left in the first quarter.
Following a Mars Hill punt, Carson-Newman got rolling again to power through a lengthy field. Quarterback Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) rolled off a 42-yard run on an option keeper to flip field position before Diantae Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) plundered into the endzone on a trap over the left side of the line to put the Eagles up 14-0 with three seconds having elapsed in the second quarter.
The drive encompassed 94 yards and 5:09 of clock.
The Eagles got pinned deep following another MHU punt. Starting from their own seven, the Eagles moved down to the 17 yardline before C-N's drive stalled out. Elijah Holbert (Knoxville, Tenn.) booted a 32-yard field goal, his fifth of the year, to push C-N's lead to 17 with 5:36 left in the first half.
Carson-Newman made it four straight punts for Mars Hill and a fourth straight score on the next exchange. The Eagles got their best field position of the half, taking over following a Lion three-and-out at Mars Hill's 44.
One play later and Dorren Miller (Roswell, Ga.) was into the end zone for a fifth time this season. He snared a 44-yard out-and-up route along the left sideline from Evans to push the lead to 23-0. Holbert's PAT was blocked to give the Lions some momentum that they would capitalize on on their next possession.
David Salmon connected with the SAC's leading receiver, Keshaun Taylor, for a 60-yard toss along the left sideline to pull the Lions with 16 with 1:25 left in the first half.
C-N outgained MHU 337-158 in the first half and had a 20:16-9:44 advantage in time of possession.
The Eagles looked to keep rolling in the second half before having to weather a furious Mars Hill comeback. After forcing a turnover on downs on the Lions' opening possession. The Eagles moved the ball effectively before Evans tossed his second touchdown pass of the day, buying time with his feet before lobbing a 35-yard teardrop to Darvia DuBose along the right side of the end zone.
Carson-Newman looked to salt things away with a 30-7 lead in hand, but Mars Hill would have none of that.
The Lions rallied with 14 unanswered-fourth quarter points. Craig Rucker grabbed a 55-yard catch-and-run before Salmon hooked up with Jamel Hall for a two-yard score to pull Mars Hill within nine, 30-21 with 10:25 to play in the fourth.
"They showed great determination," Turner said of his defense. "Mars Hill made some plays in the third quarter, but our defense never gave up. I admire them for stepping up and not letting them get all the way back into the game. That says a lot about their heart."
That would be the final margin. Carson-Newman forced Mars Hill in to a trio of turnovers on downs on its side of the 50 in the final 30 minutes to help preserve the lead and the win.
The Lions rally was sparked by quarterback David Salmon and all-conference receivers Keshaun Taylor and Craig Rucker.
Salmon went 26-for-46 for 367 yards and three scores. It was the most passing yards that C-N allowed since giving up 407 to EJ Hilliard of Valdosta State in the first round of the 2015 NCAA playoffs.
Rucker was his top target in terms of catches, and Taylor in terms of yards. Rucker hauled in 10 passes for 135 yards, while Taylor averaged 25 yards a catch, hauling in seven balls for 175 yards. Both players found the end zone once.
The Eagles' aerial game was guided by Miller and DuBose who both surpassed 60 yards receiving and who both had scores.
Miller grabbed five balls for 61 yards, DuBose had three for 60.
Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) led the Eagles' defense eight tackles, including seven solo stops. Antonio Henderson (Palmetto, Fla.) had seven tackles, with the Eagles' lone tackle for loss.
With his day, Sha'Heem Stupart sits at 278 tackles for his career, that moves him into a tie with Mike Schlecter (1985-88) for eighth on the program's all-time tackle list. Stupart needs four more to catch Chuck Profitt (1989-92) for seventh.
Carson-Newman dominated time of possession, holding on to the pig skin for 36:48 comparred to 23:12 for Mars Hill. The Lions put up 462 yards on the day, the most the Eagles have allowed in 2017, including382 through the air.
"We had to have this," Turner said. "It had to be. There are times in life where you have your back to the wall and have to come out swinging. Those kids have responded two weeks in a row with tough road trips. Our trainers and equipment staff treat these kids first class. They make it easier on us. Those kids have a gleam in their eye right now and want to win every time they take the field on Saturdays."
Carson-Newman is back at Mossy Creek for three of the next four. The Eagles take on North Greenville on Homecoming next week. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Airtime on the Eagle Sports Network is at 2. Coverage begins with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.