VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2017 UNC Pembroke Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – After back-to-back frustrating losses to Tusculum and Lenoir-Rhyne, Carson-Newman (6-4) will try to close out the 2018 season on a high note at UNC Pembroke (2-6).
The Eagles and Braves meet for the sixth time Saturday at 1 p.m. from UNCP's Grace P. Johnson Stadium. C-N leads the all-time series 3-2 and has won back-to-back games.
"This is an opportunity for us because it's the next game, it's an opportunity for our kids to finish strong," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "It's an opportunity to send our seniors out with a win, and that's the main thing we're looking at. It does two parts as far as being important; it's important to finish strong as far as this 2018 campaign goes. It's important for our seniors to go out for their last game, but it's also about building for the off-season."
Carson-Newman hasn't lost three straight games since dropping three straight to Lenoir-Rhyne, Wingate and Newberry in the middle of the 2011 season.
If the Eagles are to put a halt to the streak, they'll need a much better second half performance than they've put together in back-to-back losses to the Bears and Pioneers.
The Eagles led Lenoir-Rhyne and Tusculum at the halftime break, both by scores of 21-14. However, in each game after halftime, the Eagles' offense slogged down. Against Tusculum, Carson-Newman had -7 yards rushing in the fourth quarter. Against Lenoir-Rhyne, the Eagles had three turnovers and 62 yards of total offense after the halftime break. The past two weeks, the Eagles have averaged 4.02 yards per play after halftime and 1.79 yards per rush. The Eagles have 34 carries for 61 yards the last two weeks after halftime.
"That's totally against the grain for what we are and what we stand for," Turner said. "A lot of the things Saturday got down to fumbles. But it's the same word; it's execution, it's focus, it's urgency. That's where we've struggled at times and that's where we've got to overcome it.
"You go back, you look at video, you talk to kids as a group, talk to them individually, they have the same frustrations that I have about finishing things. It's showed that we're capable of beating anybody we've played, and it's got down to just making sure we finish on all sides of the football; offense, defense and the kicking game."
Carson-Newman is trying to bring its road record to .500 for the year (presently it's 2-3). Carson-Newman has only had two other non-winning seasons on the road in the last 30 years. The Eagles were 2-4 away from Burke-Tarr Stadium in 2016 and 1-4 in 2011.
After being limited to 113 yards rushing against Lenoir-Rhyne, Carson-Newman fell out of the top spot in the national rankings for rushing yardage. The Buffs now lead the Eagles 347 yards rushing per game to 338. The Eagles have been top 15 in the country each of the last 12 seasons in rushing, but haven't led the nation since 2012. The Eagles averaged 378 yards per game on the ground that year.
With the final game of the year here, the record book watch is on for the Eagles.
- Carson-Newman has blocked six kicks as a team in 2018. That total matches the 2012 and 2003 teams for the most blocked kicks in a single season.
- Antonio Wimbush leads the nation with 8.3 yards per carry. If the season were to end today, that figure would be the fourth highest single-season total in school history.
- Temoris Coats needs one more tackle for loss to match Eric Rice (2006) and his 17 tackles for loss that year for the Carson-Newman single-season record. Coats has had a tackle for loss in every game this year with the exception of the Eagles' win against Mars Hill.
- With 29 career rushing scores, Wimbush is tied with Nate Inman for 11th on Carson-Newman's career rushing touchdowns list. He needs six scores to crack the top 10 and match Robert Thomas.
- Wimbush also became the 26th Eagle to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Wimbush sits at 1,092 yards for the year. He can break into the top 20 for all-time single season rushing totals with 11 more yards.
- Wimbush enters the contest with UNCP with 2,766 career rushing yards. He needs 85 yards rushing to move into a tie for 12th place all-time with Vernon Turner (2,851). After that, Tyron Douglas sits in 11th all-time with 2,960 yards, a 194-yard day away for Wimbush.
- Desmond Fairell grabbed his 11th and 12th career interceptions in week eight's win over Virginia-Lynchburg. That moves him into a tie for eighth on C-N's all-time picks list with Carson-Newman Hall of Famer Joe Fishback. His next interception will move him into a tie for seventh on the all-time list with Tim Foutz (13 picks from 1983-84). JJ Simmons sits in sixth with 15 from 1995-98.
Of the group, Coats is the only senior.
"There's a lot of people that thought that he had limitations and that he couldn't be the same kind of player, but he's proven to be what kind of dynamic player he is," Turner said. "He's a leader on the field, but he's a play maker. He's a guy that's a warrior, he's going to get it done regardless, regardless, regardless. For this football team to be what we want them to be and what they want to get to, then they've got to perform regardless, regardless, regardless and get the same idea."
Kickoff between the Eagles and Braves is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) and online at cneagles.com/live.