VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Sha'Heem Stupart Interview
VIDEO: Mario Mezier Interview
VIDEO: Stokes Rowe Interview
VIDEO: Jared Dillingham Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Behind a stiff defense and a big-play offense, Carson-Newman (8-3) closed out the regular season in style with a 45-10 win over UNC Pembroke (2-8) Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The Eagles now await their playoff fate during the NCAA's annual selection show Sunday at 6 p.m. on NCAA.com. The Eagles were ranked eighth in the final region rankings. The top seven make the playoffs. The teams ranked 5-10 all won on Saturday. However, fourth-ranked West Georgia picked up a third loss 34-29 at West Florida, giving the Eagles a faint glimmer of hope.
"I was proud of them today," head coach Mike Turner said. "We started fast, stayed after it fast and finished strong. I'm proud of our effort and the fact that we played the way we did to close. If we don't make the playoffs, then the way they finished out this regular season, I can't be more proud of them. They've molded themselves into a football team you can be proud of. I love them, I admire them, and I appreciate them for how they handled adversity and the ups and downs of this season."
Carson-Newman raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead on UNCP en route to a 45-10 win over the Braves, the largest margin of victory for either team in the five-game history of the series. The 35-point margin of victory is also the second largest of the season for the Eagles and the biggest against Division II competition.
"I've tried to buffer us a team with all that needs to happen for us to get in the playoffs," Turner said. "We tried to use Bible verses to do that. We can only control certain things. So the only thing we could control this week was how we played against Pembroke. That's what we can control and that's what we did control. We responded to that today. I don't think anyone can challenge their heart, or their effort today."
Jared Dillingham (Central, S.C.) became the 25th player in program history to rush for 1,000-yards in a season. He turned in a 71-yard day at the office on just 10 carries. Dillingham also found the end zone three times, all in the first half.
"Jared is one of those guys who is the next man up," Turner said. "He's the posterchild for that one. He has come along so much and has made things happen with a great attitude. He's made people around him get better. He's given us a chance to win week in week out."
Quarterback Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) led the Eagles on the ground with 126 yards on 11 carries. Evans was 4-for-8 through the air for 92 yards passing. He guided the Eagles to 475 yards of total offense on the day.
Diante Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) pounded the rock 13 times for 71 yards with a score as well.
The Eagles defense was relentless on the day. Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) snared his fourth pick of the year and Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) grabbed his fifth. The Eagles used a pervasive rush to force three, three-and-outs, sack the Braves quarterback five times and make 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"It was awesome to watch our defense," Turner said. "They filled gaps and our linebackers ran downhill. Those kids our aggressive and they love playing at a fast tempo. It was great to sit back and watch them execute today."
Sha'Heem Stupart (Taylors, S.C.) led the charge for that unit, which limited UNCP to 136 yards of total offense, including just 29 on the ground. Stupart turned in nine tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks to close out an All-America-caliber regular season. Stupart has 312 tackles in his Carson-Newman career.
With the Braves 29 yards, C-N's defense has allowed, on average, 95 yards per game on the ground, the second fewest in the last 17 seasons.
Carson-Newman blasted off from the jump and never let up. The Eagles scored on five of their six possessions in the first half.
The Eagles exploded out of the gates with a score on the first play from scrimmage. Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) meandered 79 yards over the middle of the field to the house for a score 20 seconds in.
"We ran the midline option right there and Derrick made a great read on it," Turner said. "We had a lead gap burst through the b-gap, Derrick followed and he was gone. It was a great way to start that game."
After back-to-back three-and-outs for Pembroke, sandwiching a C-N pick, the Eagles got rolling with four straight scores to close the half.
The first score was the longest drive for C-N in terms of plays and time of possession for the last six years. Jared Dillingham capped the 16-play, 8:56 possession with a three-yard blast over right tackle to put C-N up 14-0.
C-N forced a turnover on downs on the next UNCP possession, nine plays and 42 yards later, Dillingham was into the end zone for a second time with a 10-yard scamper up the middle. That rush also pushed him over 1,000 yards on the season. He is the 25th man in school history with 1,000 yards rushing in a single year.
Following UNCP's third punt of the first half, the Eagles took advantage yet again with a seven-play, 65-yard drive. Diantae Thomas (Dothan, Ala.) pounded the football in from five yards away to push the lead to 28-0 with 2:59 to play in the first half.
However, the Eagles weren't done. Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) picked off his fourth pass of the season and returned it down to the six.
Dillingham celebrated senior day with a hat trick and a six-yard rushing TD set up by Fairell's pick with a little over two minutes left in the first half.
The second half saw the Eagles tack on 10 more points thanks to a 32-yard Elijah Holbert (Knoxville, Tenn.) field goal and a Tyson Herron (Bogart, Ga.) two-yard touchdown run to cement a 45-10 final score.
Auston Foley was 18-of-25 through the air for the Braves. He tosses 109 yards worth of passes as UNCP averaged 6.1 yards a catch.
EJ Williams was his top target, ensnaring seven passes for 34 yards.
Miles Grant carried the ball 10 times for 37 yards to lead the Braves on the ground.
Now the Eagles have to wait to see if their season continues.
"We'll meet Monday regardless," Turner said. "We'll be together as a team on Monday. This was a great win, but the locker room was pensive. We needed to learn how to celebrate a little bit. I thought someone had hurt somebody's puppy when I went into the locker room. I understand being pensive. But, goodness, we're one of the teams that gets to worry about making the playoffs. I'm so proud of the way they've represented themselves and this university."