Homecoming heartbreak, Crusaders down Eagles 31-21

VIDEO: Highlights

VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview

VIDEO: Dorren Miller Interview

VIDEO: Sha'heem Stupart Interview

JEFFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (5-3) had its worst offensive performance of the season while North Greenville (4-4) pounced on a handful of untimely C-N miscues to spoil Carson-Newman's Homecoming game 31-21, Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium. 

A week after a season-high 565 yards of total offense, including 420 on the ground, C-N's offense sputtered to its lowest rushing output in five seasons.  Carson-Newman was limited to 106 yards on 45 carries, a measly 2.4 yards a tote. 

The contest marks the lowest rushing total for  the Eagles' vaunted veer-option attack since October 2013 when Carson-Newman put up 90 yards rushing on an identical 45 carries in a 37-3 loss at Lenoir-Rhyne.

"They attacked us more than we attacked them," head coach Mike Turner said. "We didn't maintain blocks long enough to spring backs.  That's not the way it's supposed to be, especially in this offense. We let them attack more than we did attacking."

The Eagles dropped their Homecoming game for the first time since 2011, a 42-14 loss to UNC Pembroke that year.  This also marks North Greenville's first win against Carson-Newman at Mossy Creek.  It snapped a three-game skid for the Crusaders and a three-game win streak for the Eagles. 

Even with the slow day offensively, the Eagles had chances to rally late.  North Greenville grabbed had a 24-14 lead with 14:54 left in the fourth quarter following a Tristen Jackson nine-yard touchdown run. 

Then the Eagles methodically worked the ball back down the field to make it a field-goal game after a beefy 14-play, 64-yard drive was capped by a Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) one-yard QB sneak.  The drive did take 7:20 off the clock.

The Eagles defense then rose to the occasion forcing back-to-back three-and-outs.  However, on the second, Carson-Newman was called for roughing the punter, giving the Crusaders' a fresh set of downs.

Yet again, the Eagles forced NGU off the field in three plays.  C-N would get the football back with 90 seconds left for a shot to tie the game with a field goal, or punch a TD for the lead. 

However, on the ensuing punt, freshman return man Tavion Rorie (Wadesboro, N.C.) returned the Bobby Foos boot from his own one-yard line.  He initially retreated into the end zone to make one would-be tackler miss before narrowly evading a safety.  However, as he crossed the two, he got popped by NGU longsnapper Hunter Haines and fumbled the football into the air.  Jacob Harper plucked it out of the sky along the left hashes and blasted into the end zone to cement the game for NGU 31-21. 

"It's a matter of what we talked about last week," head coach Mike Turner said. "We're not good enough yet, but we'll get there.  We're not good enough yet to make mistakes, especially big mistakes, and we made plenty of those today. We hurt ourselves in battling for field position and had some young kids overtry to perform in front of a big Homecoming crowd.  We have to understand how to handle that adversity."

The Eagles played solid defense, limiting the Crusaders to 324 yards of total offense.  NGU was aided by exceptional starting field position all game long.  The Crusaders averaged a drive start at their own 38.  A number skewed negative because of one drive (NGU's opening possession) that started at the Crusader's own one-yard line. 

Two of North Greenville's scoring drives came on fields of 53 and 29 yards. 

Sha'Heem Stupart led Carson-Newman's defense with 11 tackles. That moves him up to 289 for his career. He bypassed Chuck Proffitt for seventh on the program's all-time list.

"The kids played hard, there was no question about their effort defensively," Turner said. "Credit North Greenville, they made some plays.  Other teams will make plays, that's football, just like we do.  We have to learn how to handle that as a man, and not drop our heads because things didn't go our way."

After a herky-jerky start to the first half that featured a pair of three-and-outs for the Crusaders and a punt, plus a missed field goal for the Eagles, Carson-Newman finally got on track on possession number three.

Dorren Miller (Roswell, Ga.) snared a 52-yard catch to set the Eagles up deep in NGU territory.  Five plays later, Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) sprinted into the end zone on a nine-yard option keeper to the right to put the Eagles' up 7-0 with 3:42 to play in the first quarter.

North Greenville countered with a 5:36 drive of its own.  Matt Gravely punctuated the possession with his 14th made field goal of the season. He connected from 32 yards to make it a 7-3 game with 12:54 left in the second quarter. 

Carson-Newman countered on its next possession.  It was yet again a big play to Dorren Miller that did the job.  Evans hit Miller with a 76-yard out-and-up. Miller bobbled the ball at the NGU 45 then hauled it in at the 35, streaking the final 35 yards to the end zone to push the Eagles lead to 14-3.

NGU had the final say in the first half with an eight-play, 73-yard drive that found the endzone on an 11-yard screen pass to Robbie Brown.  He weaved his way into the end zone over the right side of the field.  That made it 14-10 Eagles with 3:05 left in the half. 

Of Carson-Newman's 225 yards at the halftime break, 129 came on the two passes to Miller.

Miller narrowly missed out on the program's fifth 150-yard receiving day since 1980.  He finished  with 145 yards and a score. 

Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) saw his streak off 100-yard rushing performances come to and end with three.  He tallied 13 carries for 60 yards.  He was the only Eagle who averaged at least three yards per carry, checking in with 4.6 a touch. 

Derrick Evans was 9-for-18 through the air for 177 yards. 

North Greenville got 214 yards out of quarterback Will Hunter. He was 19-of-28 with two scores. He didn't turn the football over.  Robbie Brown was his top target with eight catches for 84 yards and a score. 

While the Eagles' didn't pick up a win, some of the best action came during the pregame festivities, when 50 former players helped the current crop of Eagles form the cross.

"That tells you about the love and care for Carson-Newman, and their desire to stay around this program," Turner said. "I hope they'll forgive me for this loss and want to stay a part of this program. I was just happy that no one had a heart attack and no one blew out a knee running it. It was a great day to see them back for this game."

Carson-Newman finished the day with 283 yards of total offense, the first time it has been limited below 300 yards of offense since going for 250 in a 17-14 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne last year in week five of the season. 

"When we don't win, that's Mike Turner's fault," Turner said. "We'll line up and  learn from this because we've got a great team coming in here next week in Tusculum. We've got to be ready to play because we can still have a great year with this roadblock, this speed bump to overcome."

The Eagles return to action Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium against Tusculum.  Kickoff against the Pioneers is set for 1 p.m.  Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon 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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