VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Sha'Heem Stupart Interview
VIDEO: Darius Williams Interview
VIDEO: Diantae Thomas Interview
VIDEO: Jared Dillingham Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (6-3, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) didn't allow Tusculum (4-5, 2-4 SAC) to gain a yard in the second half and took advantage of timely takeaways to throttle its in-state rival 27-7 Saturday afternoon at a sodden Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman stayed perfect at home against Tusculum for the 83rd consecutive year. The Pioneers haven't beaten the Eagles at the Creek since 1934.
With the win, Carson-Newman is guaranteed its 35th winning season in 38 years.
Tusculum was held in negative yardage after halftime. Carson-Newman dropped the Pioneers for negative 10 yards in the third and fourth quarters while racking up a season-high nine tackles for loss. The Eagles forced the Pioneers into seven three-and-outs, the most Carson-Newman has forced in any one game over the last four seasons, including five of Tusculum's six possessions of the second half.
Meanwhile, an opportunistic Eagle secondary picked off three passes to set up three of the Eagles' scores.
"I'm grateful for all our football players," head coach Mike Turner said. "If you're not loaded up and ready to compete in these condition, you can find a whole lot of reasons why that can go wrong. It was great to see our defense come out and turn the ball over and make explosive plays. I'm grateful for those guys the way they attacked it. That changed the game around because we played sound offensively and defensively."
Both teams had to battle the elements in addition to each other in temperatures that rapidly dropped into the upper 30s as the game wore on thanks to a persistent deluge of precipitation.
The Eagles were able to jump out to a 13-0 lead thanks to a pair of first half interceptions. On the fourth possession of the game, Tusculum quarterback Alex Ogle lofted a pass directly to Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) along the left sideline.
Coats returned it 27 yards down to the Pioneer 15, where four plays later, C-N quarterback Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) pounded the ball into the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
Tusculum got the football back and started the second quarter by marching inside Carson-Newman territory for the first time on the day. However, on 3rd and two from the Eagles 48, Ogle hurled a jump ball along the left sideline that sophomore CB Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) seized for his third pick of the season and his seventh of his career.
Fairell glided 62 yards the other way to the Pioneer 23 to again set up the Eagles with a short field.
Again, four plays later, the Eagles found the end zone. Again, it was Evans doing the damage, with his 12th rushing touchdown of the season, on a three-yard QB sneak with 11:46 left in the first half.
Tusculum would get on the board with its fourth defensive touchdown of the season a pair of possessions later.
Elijah Holbert (Knoxville, Tenn.) saw a snap slip through his hands on a punt attempt. The freshman tried to pick the football up and boot it away, however, Timmy Pratt closed the gap quickly to wrench the football into the end zone for a fumble recovery and a Pioneer score.
That made it 13-7 heading into the halftime locker room.
"They decided to quit worrying about everything else and to go play football," Turner said. "Their focus was totally in there when they got rolling. We found that focus at halftime and it showed very heavily in the second half."
Play football the Eagles did. The Pioneers drive chart in the second half consisted of four consecutive three-and-outs, followed by a pick six, followed by another three-and-out for good measure.
Both teams failed to get anything rolling in the third quarter, but the Eagles broke the barn doors down in the fourth to cement the win. After Tusculum punter Hunter Cantrell pinned the Eagles at their own five-yard line to start the fourth quarter, the Eagles pounded down the field for their longest scoring drive of the season.
Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) got the party started with a 41-yard run to get Carson-Newman out of the shadow of its own goal posts. Then Diantae Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) burst over right guard for a 37-yard touchdown run that gave C-N a two-score cushion.
Two plays later, the Eagles put the game on ice. Ogle hefted a ball up for grabs in the boundary over the right side of the field. Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) seized it for the Eagles for the third pick of the day, then meandered 58 yards the other direction for a pick six.
"Our rush was there persistently," Turner said. "Our kids were where they were supposed to be. They weren't going to let slip one over the top. It's great to see how excited they were for each other. To see a whole sideline erupt on Darius' interception. That's pretty special."
Williams pick six was the first for Carson-Newman football in 399 days, since Jerry Miclisse housed a 26-yard interception return against Mars Hill last season.
Williams also collects his second defensive or special teams touchdown. He recovered a blocked punt for a score against Saint Augustine's last year.
To erase all doubt and secure the win, Carson-Newman's defense then forced its seventh three-and-out of the game to hand the football back to the Eagle offense with 10:12 left to play.
The Eagles only erased the final 10 minutes and change off the clock with a beefy 17-play 78-yard drive that ended with the Eagles on the Tusculum 11 and a 20-point win in hand.
The game was affected by the weather in major fashion. The teams combined for a whopping 13 fumbles, with eight of them coming on center to quarterback exchanges.
The Eagles lost three fumbles, once on a muffed punt, on Holbert's snap that led to a score and on an exchange between Evans and running back Demitri Saulsberry (St. Mary's, Ga.). However, unlike the Pioneers' three picks, which led to 20 Carson-Newman points, Tusculum didn't capitalize off any of the Eagles' miscues.
Carson-Newman picked up a pair of 100-yard rushers for the first time since last year's game at Tusculum. Thomas led the Eagles with 121 yards on 16 carries, while Dillingham pounded out 106 yards on 16 totes.
Evans added 65 yards and two scores with 20 touches.
Evans only fired one pass, and it fell incomplete. It marks the first game that Carson-Newman has played where it hasn't completed a pass since 2011. Strangely enough, that was also against Tusculum. The Eagles racked up 487 yards rushing that year on 82 carries en route to a 35-27 win. The Eagles were 0-for-3 through the air that day.
Antonio Henderson (Palmetto, Fla.) led C-N with eight tackles. Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) finished with seven, he sits four shy of 300 for his career.
Tusculum running back Jordan Shippy accounted for 103 of Tusculum's 112 yards of total offense. He carried the ball 16 times for 78 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards.
Ogle was 5-for-14 with three interceptions and 36 yards passing for the Pioneers.
The Eagles limited the Pioneers to just 112 yards of total offense. The Pioneers' 36 yards passing are the ninth fewest yards through the air the Eagles' have allowed in program history and the fewest to a non-triple option team (Brevard and Lenoir-Rhyne account for the top eight spots).
Carson-Newman gained 306 yards on the ground on 59 carries.
The Eagles hit the road for the final time in 2017 with a Nov. 4 trip to Hickory, N.C. to play Lenoir-Rhyne. Kickoff with the Bears is slated for 2 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 1 with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.