VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Temoris Coats Interview
VIDEO: Antonio Wimbush Interview
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Tusculum (5-3, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) blocked a punt, scored a kickoff return for a touchdown and had an average starting field position at its own 44 yard-line to aid in thwarting Carson-Newman (6-3 4-2 SAC) 41-28 on a rain soaked Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field.
Carson-Newman led for the majority of the game, but a solid second half for the Pioneers was too much for the Eagles to overcome when combined with issues in the kicking game. The Pioneers outscored the Eagles 27-7 after halftime. C-N only gained 51 yards on the ground after heading into the locker room and failed to convert on any of its five third down attempts after the halftime break.
"It was very frustrating and it was not a lack of effort by those kids," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "Those kids played their hearts out, there's no question about that. We just made mistakes at times that kept them in the game and then gave them some hope. There is no blame to go around, there's nobody to point any fingers at. I think they went full out. But we made mistakes when we didn't need to. We didn't get enough drives going like we needed to—that's on me, brother. No doubt about it."
Tusculum put together four scoring drives that were less than 50 yards in length.
The loss guarantees Lenoir-Rhyne at no worse than a share of a South Atlantic Conference title. The Eagles no longer have determination over their own SAC title or playoff fates. The Eagles would need to beat Lenoir-Rhyne next week, then have the Bears falter in the regular season finale at Catawba to sniff a SAC championship.
The 41 points are the most that Carson-Newman has allowed in the Mike Turner era. Meanwhile, the Pioneers' 21 fourth-quarter points are the most scored in a quarter against C-N since Hulmboldt State had that many in the opener in 2016.
"I thought we had everything ironed out. Hey, it's a wet, cold day: that's an excuse," Turner said. "That's when you've got to perform. I told those kids, you're going to go play for championships? Well you're going to play in the snow. You're going to play in all kinds of weather. It's going to be wet, going to be hot, going to be cold and you've just got to handle that. We just made some mistakes and just got us beat."
The defeat obfuscates another sound and solid rushing performance for Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.). Wimbush became Carson-Newman's 26th 1,000-yard rusher with his fourth straight 100-yard performance.
The junior finished with 112 yards on 16 carries. He also tallied his sixth rushing touchdown on the year and the 29th of his career. He moved past Wayne Morton and Floyd Mathis and into 13th on C-N's all-time rushing list with the performance. Wimbush has 2,733 rushing yards for his career. His touchdown moved him into a tie for 11th with Nate Inman on the career rushing touchdowns list.
Carson-Newman exploded out of the gates. Much like the Virginia-Lynchburg game, Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) ripped off a massive run on the first pay of the game. Wimbush tallied a 64-yard gain to set the Eagles up inside the Pioneer red zone. Five plays later, Wimbush powered it into the end zone on a two-yard dive to put C-N up 7-0 2:54 into the contest.
The teams exchanged two punts before Tusculum made something happen on special teams. Randy Hooks blocked a punt giving the Pioneers the football at the C-N 29. One play later, Jordan Shippy raced to the house to level the score before the first quarter expired.
Carson-Newman turned it over on downs on its next possession which led to a Tusculum 47-yard missed field goal by Joe Defatta. The Eagles took advantage with a six-play, 70-yard drive. Sherron Jackson (Miami, Fla.) pounded the ball into the end zone on a 39-yard option pitch to the right side of the line.
The Eagles 14-7 lead would be short-lived. Lor'renzo Pratt took the ensuing kickoff back 91 yards to make things all level again.
However, Carson-Newman had the final laugh in the frame. C-N's two-minute offense revved into gear and Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) found Devon Moore in gaping hole in the defense on the left side of the end zone to put C-N up 21-14 with five seconds to play in the first half. The score capped off a nine-play, 55-yard drive in 1:43.
The Eagles would be unable to sustain that momentum after halftime. Lor'renzo Pratt scored three more times in fourth quarter on two, one-yard touchdown runs and another on a 47-yard jaunt to ice the game.
Pratt's score with 11:10 to play in the fourth gave Tusculum its first lead of the day, and one the Pioneers wouldn't relinquish. The drive was set up by Carson-Newman's third special team's miscue.
With the precipitation escalating and the ball at the C-N 39, Craig Koenig saw a snap slip through his hands on a punt attempt. He was able to gather it back in and get off a punt from back at his own 17. While the ball traveled 24 yards through the air, it went out of bounds at the 41, for a two-yard punt, officially. Five plays later, Pratt found the end zone.
Carson-Newman got things back to a one-score game with its aerial attack. Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) hit Romain Kelly (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Quinton Phillips (Macon, Ga.) on successive plays on slants to make it a 34-28 game with 8:18 left. Phillips' 57-yard touchdown catch was the Eagles' longest passing play of the season.
However, Tusculum drove the final nail into the coffin on the next drive with a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by Pratt's third touchdown run of the quarter. The possession took 4:27 off the fourth quarter clock.
Tusculum used a power running game that gashed the Eagles for 285 yards on the ground on just 38 carries. The Pioneers averaged 7.52 yards per rush. Pratt and Shippy both went for more than 100 yards on the day. Pratt had 151 yards on 15 carries. Shippy tallied 104 on 11 touches.
Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) led Carson-Newman defensively with nine tackles and a half sack.
The Eagles will try to get back on the right side of the win column against a nationally-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne team next Saturday. Kickoff against the Bears is set for 1 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins 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.