VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Braxton Westfield Interview
VIDEO: Darius Williams Interview
WINGATE, N.C. – After hitting home run after home run in the first half, Carson-Newman's (1-1, 0-1 South Atlantic Conference) offense stagnated and No. 19 Wingate (3-0, 1-0 SAC) rallied to win its ninth straight regular season game 30-28 Saturday night at Irwin Belk Stadium.
Four turnovers marred a record-setting day for the Eagles passing game, while the second half featured a paltry 45 yards of total offense, with Carson-Newman at negative two yards for the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs scored 10 unanswered in the second half to cement their ninth straight regular season victory.
"It was down to execution," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "We turned the ball over there twice and gave them points. That should never have happened. We made some mistakes that it's hard to overcome. They fought hard. I can't fault those kids for the way they played. The kept coming back and tried to make it happen."
The loss overshadowed a potent passing game in that was present in the first half. Quarterback Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) and sophomore wideout Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) tied the single-game school records for touchdown passes and touchdown receptions, respectively. Evans unfurled four TD passes, while Westfield tallied three catches all for scores.
Evans was 6-for-10 through the air for the day for 265 yards. The 265 yards a career high. Meanwhile, Westfield had 169 yards on his three catches. His first of the day travelled 81 yards, the seventh longest reception in school history. His 169 yards are the 10th highest single-game total in school history and the third most of the option era.
"He's a guy that can make plays," Turner said. "We saw how they were trying to defend the option. The angles they were trying to take and that was all off of play action. I'm excited for those kids and I'm excited about how they performed, but I wish we could have gotten one more."
However, as explosive as the Eagles offense was in the first half, it was that quite in the second half.
The Eagles only had 45 yards after halftime and had negative two yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
Carson-Newman was held under 100 yards rushing as a team for the first time since a 37-3 loss at Lenoir-Rhyne. However, the Eagles counterbalanced it with 265 yards passing, it's most since 2017.
"They fought. They've got great fight in them. I'm proud of them and the defensive coaches, how hard they worked. But it was across the board. We made some mistakes when we needed to get stops. In the second half, I didn't do us a good enough job to get us some first downs," Turner said. "It was our inability to be efficient and proficient in what we needed to do. We came out and tried to make some adjustments, but evidently they weren't good ones. It breaks your heart for the kids. They're heartbroken. They played hard enough to win. We made too many mistakes. I needed to be able to do something to help them. We made mistakes that do get you beat."
Carson-Newman landed some haymakers while dodging three first half fumbles.
On the third play from scrimmage and facing third-and-13, Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) hit a slant to Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) along the right hashes. Westfield dodged defenders to meander his way 81 yards to the house to give C-N a 7-0 advantage 1:10 into the contest. The reception was the seventh longest catch in school history.
Wingate would respond off a C-N miscue. After the Eagles forced a punt, Carson-Newman fumbled away its second possession at its own eight. Two plays later, Shaw Crocker hooked up with BJ Mobley in the middle of the end zone for a seven-yard strike to level things up.
The team's exchanged punts their next two possessions, before Carson-Newman lost its second fumble of the day. Wingate again recovered inside the Eagle 10. However, the Eagles defense stood stout to force a three-and-out and a 27-yard McLean Robertson field goal that put the Bulldogs up 10-7.
Carson-Newman wasted no time in responding. C-N put together a six-play 75-yard drive headlined by a 53-yard touchdown hookup from Evans to Westfield to pull C-N back in front 14-10 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
Wingate's RaQuan Simmons returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the C-N 45. Six plays and 20 yards later, Robertson sent his second field goal through the uprights from 41 yards away. That pulled Wingate within one, 14-13.
The Eagles needed all of 20 seconds to respond. Evans hit Trevor Makarov (Ann Arbor, Mich.) for a 79-yard score for the tight end's first touchdown catch of his career. That set C-N in front 21-13.
The team's swapped three and outs, before Wingate's offense tallied its first sustained drive of the half. The Bulldogs navigated down to the eight on five plays. Kalen Clark then powered his way off left tackle to cut the deficit to one.
Carson-Newman countered the next possession, again with Westfield. He snared a 35-yard slant over the right hashes to stroll in to cap a four-play, 71-yard drive to put C-N up 28-20 with 5:08 to play before the break.
The Eagles would maintain that eight-point lead at the break thanks to a staunch special teams play. Wycleff Phanor rejected a 43-yard McLean Robertson field goal at the line of scrimmage to keep the lead at eight.
However, that's when things started to go south for C-N.
Wingate put together its longest sustained drive of the game on its opening possession of the second half. Dom McNeil capped the possession with a five-yard score off right tackle to pull Wingate within one 101 seconds into the second stanza.
That'd be where the game would remain for the next 20 minutes. Carson-Newman brought the ball inside Wingate territory once in the second half, a possession that ended on an interception on a jump ball intended for Westfield. After the team's exchanged three-and-outs, Wingate marched down the field on a drive that started 12:50. Eight plays and 42 yards later, Robertson knocked his third field goal of the game through, a 43 yarder that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Carson-Newman would run a grand total of seven plays the rest of the way, three of which ended in sacks. The Eagles were never able to advance the ball past their own 25 in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles outgained Wingate 352-317. However, in this backwards world, the Eagles had 184 passing yards than Wingate, while the Bulldogs tallied 149 more rushing yards than the Eagles.
Dom McNeil led Wingate's ground game with 176 yards on 19 carries.
Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) had 50 yards on 12 carries to lead C-N. He joined Carson-Newman's 3,000-yard rushing club and moved past Nate Inman and into the top 10 all-time for career rushing yards at C-N. Wimbush has 3,019 yards for his career.
Carson-Newman returns home Sept. 28 for the first ever meeting with the UVA-Wise Cavaliers. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Pregame starts on the Eagle Sports Network at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.