VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (5-2) challenges North Greenville (3-4) in a fight to stay alive for a bid to the NCAA playoffs Saturday at 3 p.m. at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The contest is Carson-Newman's Homecoming and all former Eagle football players are invited to help C-N's players form the cross, as is the program's tradition, prior to the start of warm-ups approximately 45 minutes before kickoff.
"There will be guys on Saturday that I have played with and that I have coached. There will be players that I have coached and their sons, that is scary because I started when I was five," head coach Mike Turner said. "It is a special time and there is no question about it. All the former football players have great stories and you just wish you had more time with them. They are here for the game and they want to see what this team can do. It's a day where current players learn about tradition and what other players have done to pave the way for them. It is a good time."
Interested alums who wish to participate in the formation of the cross should contact receivers coach Carl White at firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
"I want those guys (former football players) to look our guys in the eyeball and I want our kids to see them," Turner said. "I think that it is going to be a great event, if we can get it pulled off and nobody get run-over. I think that it is going to be great for our football team and I think that is going to be great for the people on campus to see. That is what this program is about and it is about being a part of something for life."
Carson-Newman has won five straight homecoming contests dating back to a 42-14 loss to UNC Pembroke on homecoming in 2011. North Greenville represents Carson-Newman's homecoming opponent for a fourth time in that span. The Eagles whipped the Crusaders 52-7 in 2012's homecoming game, rallied from a 21-point deficit to triumph 35-34 in 2014 and held off a late Crusader rally 48-45 in 2015's edition.
In 2014, future Harlon Hill trophy finalist Damian Baker scored the game-winner for the Eagles on an 18-yard draw play with 9:15 left in the fourth quarter. A year later, the Eagles produced a school record five picks, but also had to withstand three lost fumbles and a late punt block for a score that nearly helped NGU erase a 17-point deficit.
The Eagles hope some of that Homecoming magic holds true for 2017's game. The home team is 5-1 in the history of the brief six-game series between Carson-Newman and North Greenville. The Eagles have the only win on the road, a 43-26 triumph in Tigerville in 2013. A win over North Greenville would keep Carson-Newman in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Additionally, a Carson-Newman victory and a Hillsdale Charger loss to Walsh would move Carson-Newman into a tie with the Chargers for the third most wins all-time amongst NCAA Division II opponents. The Eagles enter the weekend with 624. The Chargers have 625.
To hit those milestones, the Eagles will have to contend with junior NGU QB Will Hunter.
"He is a great quarterback and he does some special things for them. He's got a couple of running backs that certainly aid him. They are a good football team. They have always been a solid football team," Turner said. "They are well-coached in what they do. You have to do what you do well and then you never have to look back and say what happened. Jeff (Farrington) over there has done a great job in building the program."
Hunter completed 11-of-17 passed for 220 yards in last year's 34-24 NGU win. Two of his top targets return from that game in tight end Bobby Foos (three catches for 80 yards and a score) and wide receiver Mason Sanders (three catches for 53 yards).
The Crusaders can also rely on a couple weapons they had last year in the running game in tailbacks Tracy Scott and Ashton Heard. Scott ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run en route to a 157-yard day. Heard had 13 carries for 55 yards.
"I think they have a great offensive line in front of them," Turner said. "That is always going to be the key for somebody that is a good running back. They have experience and a knack of being able to move and find that little gap in the zone. When they do find the gap they explode. They are a tandem that has been very productive all year. It is a good matchup with the experience of their offensive line. They are also experienced for the quarterback. Any quarterback is a whole lot better when he can take one look and a second look before he has to get rid of the football."
We have North Greenville this weekend. It's homecoming. You're more than welcome to come. 865-471-3396 for tickets. https://t.co/oja0ZhVnWJ— C-N Football (@cnfootball) October 17, 2017
Carson-Newman will hope that the South Atlantic Conference's top rush defense can slow down Heard and Scott after the duo helped the Crusaders rush for 220 yards on the Eagles last season. Last year's game marks the last time that Carson-Newman was outgained on the ground by its foe. The Eagles totaled 160 yards rushing last season.
The Eagles are coming into the game fresh off their top offensive performance of the season. The Eagles rushed for a season-high 420 yard and tallied 565 yards of total offense in last week's 30-21 win at Mars Hill.
Senior running back Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) produced a career high with 196 yards on the ground.
That effort sets Dillingham up to enter rarefied air. He looks to become the sixth player for the Eagles to top the century mark four straight times. Antonio Wimbush rushed for 100 yards in four straight games spanning the final three games of 2016 and the first game of 2017. School-record holder Andy Hibbett (nine straight in 2015), Brandon Baker (four straight in 2009), Buck Wakefield (five straight in 2009) and Tyrone Westmoreland (four straight in 1997) are the only other C-N backs to pull off the feat.
Kickoff between the Eagles and the Crusaders is set for 3 p.m. The Homecoming parade starts at 2 around campus. That's the same time that the Eagle Sports Network hits the air with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.