VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Temoris Coats Interview
VIDEO: Toot Johnson Interview
VIDEO: Alonzo Houston Interview
VIDEO: Derrick Evans Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (2-1, 1-0 South Atlantic Conference) rode a lockdown defensive effort to a 31-14 win over Wingate (2-1, 0-1 SAC) Saturday night in the Eagles' SAC and home opener at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman limited the Bulldogs to a paltry 141 yards and zero points through the first three quarters en route to the 17-point win. Carson-Newman outgained the Bulldogs 416-312 on the day.
"That was an awesome display by them, and what a great turnaround in a week," head football coach Mike Turner said of the Eagles' defense. "They saw how they should be playing, how they can play and gosh, they played excited. They turned the ball over, and that's one thing we've been missing to be honest. They're playing just like we expect them to play with tempo and that that kind of excitement."
The Eagles' forced a season-high three turnovers and caused Wingate to fall from a list of 28 teams in NCAA Division II that had yet to lose a fumble on the year.
The Bulldogs went through a stretch of eight possessions spanning the second and third quarters where they had six three-and-outs and two interceptions.
The win for Carson-Newman snapped a six-game losing streak to defending South Atlantic Conference champions.
However, the triumph wasn't without its moments of frustration. The Eagles were penalized 16 times for 136 yards. The Eagles finished the day with more penalty yards than they had yards passing (129) and had three touchdowns erased because of penalties.
Carson-Newman was whistled for 12 penalties for 102 yards alone in the first half. One such penalty erased a potential record-setting return for the Eagles.
"I like the way these kids play and they play wide open, and I want them to not have penalties, no question. And do we hold them accountable to that? I promise you we hold them accountable to it," Turner said. "We can't have a touchdown called back because we're celebrating. I really believe that broke the kids' heart. The worst thing is we didn't convert it from there on offense. We can say a whole lot of things, but I'm gonna back them and keep working on it. Anytime it's like that, that's gotta come back to the coach. I like the way they're playing on the edge, but you can't win a whole lot of ballgames with 12 penalties.
The Bulldogs stood poised to take an opening lead on their opening possession. Wingate had third-and-goal from the one when Dom McNeil took a handoff and leapt into the air to try to plunge into the end zone.
However, the Eagles' defensive back was whistled for excessive celebration on the return and Carson-Newman had to take over at the Wingate 41 instead. The Eagles lost three yards on three plays and punted with no points to show for the exchange.
After a herky-jerky start, Carson-Newman got settled on its third possession after a pair of three-and-outs. The Eagles used the aerial attack to get into the end zone. On third-and-six from the Wingate 33, Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) unfurled a gorgeous ball over the boundary left side that found Romain Kelly (Spartanburg, S.C.) uncovered in the right side of the end zone for an easy 33-yard pitch-and-catch for an opening 7-0 lead with 2:31 to play in the first quarter.
Carson-Newman forced a trio of first-half turnovers, but failed to score points on any of them. In fact, the Eagles scored three touchdowns after turnovers, and all three were wiped off the board.
Carson-Newman set the margin at 10-0 at the halftime break thanks to a Caden Patterson (Clarksville, Tenn.) 38-yard field goal.
WATCH. OUT. @darius7williams snags the second C-N INT of the night and the first of the season for the junior.— C-N Athletics (@CNathletics) September 16, 2018
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The Eagles had an opportunity to pad that lead after Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) intercepted his sixth career pass and returned it 58 yards to the Wingate 18-yard line. Carson-Newman connected on a touchdown pass to Trevor Makarov (Ann Arbor, Mich.) that was called back for holding and a pitch play to Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) that was also called back for holding.
The Eagles' settled for a field goal attempt with five seconds left that was blocked.
The team's traded punts the first three possessions of the second half before Carson-Newman won a battle of field position. Fairell returned a punt 33 yards to set up the Eagles at the Bulldog 28. Five plays later, Evans plunged in on a one-yard quarterback sneak for his first score of the season and his 20th career rushing touchdown to extend the Eagles' lead to 17-0 with 7:31 to play in the third.
Wingate got on track offensively in the fourth quarter to make things a little more interesting than the Eagles would have preferred. However, a freshman stepped up to help the Eagles ice things down.
Wingate, was 6-for-19 through the air through the first three quarters, but Shaw Crocker completed 10-of-14 passes for 169 yards and a score in the fourth stanza to keep Wingate close.
He found Bryan Mitchell on an eight-yard pass into the right flat for the first score 14 seconds into the frame and pull Wingate within 10, 17-7.
However, Carson-Newman countered with Toot Johnson (Rincon, Ga.). The freshman ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run on a dive for the first score of his career to stretch the lead back to three scores. Johnson's run came with 9:16 to play in the fourth.
Wingate, wouldn't go away though. Crocker navigated the Bulldogs down to the one where McNeil found the end zone for Wingate's lone rushing touchdown.
The Eagles go the ball back and milked clock. Facing third-and-six from Wingate's 39, C-N ran a pitch play to Johnson. The tailback rolled around the left side, smashed Wingate defensive back Joe Kelly to the turf with a stiff arm at the 15 and dashed into the end zone with 1:47 left to cap an 11-play, 79-yard drive that ate more than five minutes off the clock. The score set the final margin at 31-14.
Johnson tallied 121 yards on six carries with the two scores in the fourth quarter alone. He finished the day with 148 yards on nine carries. That tally is the highest rushing total by a freshman since Tyron Douglas ran for 183 yards against Newberry in 2010.
"He's everything he was supposed to be," Turner said. "He's everything we thought he was going to be. He's a very exciting running back when he touches the ball. I'm just hoping he gains more and more experience and gets more and more comfortable in what we're doing, because you saw when he is comfortable, baby, and he turns it loose, it's awesome."
The Eagles finished with 289 yards rushing on the day. Wimbush complemented Johnson's 148-yard day with 79 yards on 14 carries.
Evans was effective through the air, completing 7-of-15 passes for 127 yards and a score. Quinton Phillips (Augusta, Ga.) turned in a career day catching the ball with three snares for a career-best 66 yards.
The Eagles limited McNeil, the league's second-leading rusher to 27 yards on 20 carries.
Crocker did toss for 243 yards, a career high. However, Wingate's redshirt-freshman signal caller was sacked four times and completed 16-of-31 passes, well below his league-best 60 percent completion rate coming into the game.
Freshman linebacker Alonzo Houston (Wimauma, Fla.) led the Eagle defense along with senior linebacker Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) to the tune of nine tackles, each. Houston also had two stops for loss and a pick.
"He was playing on the scout team against the offense and we couldn't block him," Turner said. "We had them come to a compromise with coach Slade where number one we were going to somebody back over there on the other side, but that kid just showed up that day. And [I'm] really, really happy for him. He's and exciting young man and packs a punch when he gets there."
Coats tallied a sack with his nine tackles. Henderson added in seven tackles, a sack and a pair of forced fumbles.
The Eagles' victory snapped a 12-game winning streak for the Bulldogs in night games.
Johnson's 58-yard touchdown run gives Carson-Newman a rush of at least 50-yards or longer in five consecutive games.
The contest was the first Saturday night game at Burke-Tarr Stadium since the Eagles' drilled Guilford 41-0 in 2003.
Carson-Newman hits the road for Newberry next week. Kickoff from the Palmetto State is set for 1 p.m. from Setzer Field. The Eagle Sports Network hits the air 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.
Conference opener ✅— C-N Athletics (@CNathletics) September 16, 2018
Home opener ✅
Eagles go off for 416 yards of total offense as @toot_johnson rips of 146 of his own on nine carries ��
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