VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2018 UNCP Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (2-1) hops out of South Atlantic Conference play for the final time in 2019 to duel with UNC Pembroke (2-2) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The game is a pink out for breast cancer awareness.
Carson-Newman is 18-4 over the last decade in non-conference home games. The Eagles have won three straight games out of conference at Burke-Tarr Stadium dating back to 2017 when North Greenville scored a 31-21 win on the Eagles' homecoming. Other home out of conference losses in the last 10 years include Humboldt State (2016), UNC Pembroke on homecoming (2011) and Winona State (2010).
The Braves have already matched their win total from the past two years with triumphs over Winston-Salem State and Catawba.
"Pembroke is playing very well right now," head football coach Mike Turner said. "Coach Shane Richardson has always done a great job. Gosh, they're scoring points, they're throwing the football, running the football very well. They've got explosion on offense, they're running back and the quarterback are both being very productive for them. I think they are a much-improved football team from where they were a year ago. They've been in games, had chances to win, maybe one or two that they lost right up to the end were in it, so we've got our hands full on Saturday."
The Eagles have won three straight in the series and two straight since the Eagles' resumed play with the Braves in 2017. Carson-Newman leads the all-time ledger with UNCP 4-2.and is 2-1 at home.
Carson-Newman is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since winning four straight from Sept. 29 – Oct. 20 last year.
To get there, the Eagles will need a continuance of their efforts on first down in last week's 42-7 win over UVa-Wise. The Eagles averaged 9.8 yards a rush on first down.
"I think our emphasis stays the same," Turner said. "We keep improving on who we are, we keep on improving on who we are, what we're about. First down making sure whether it's run or pass that we have that mentality that we keep the chains in our favor. I think our kids see that we're a work in progress right now. We're not where we want to get to, we're improved. I think we're improved mentality wise, I think we're improved physicality wise and we know that we have to play at that level all the time."
Carson-Newman will be tangling with a Pembroke club that has struggled at times to stop the run. The Braves gave up 394 yards rushing in a 35-16 loss to Virginia State in week two. UNCP gives up an average of 218 yards on the ground per game. The Braves rank 129th nationally in both tackles for loss and sacks.
Last week in loss to Limestone which snapped a 15-game Saints losing streak, the Braves surrendered eight plays of 20 yards or more, including a trio of rushes.
Carson-Newman has tallied a rush of at least 50 yards or more in 13 of the last 16 weeks of football. The Eagles have had a rush of at least 75 yards in back-to-back meetings with the Braves.
This year, part of Carson-Newman's big play potential comes from the air.
Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) has turned the last four passes he's caught into touchdowns. If he continues his heavy hitting ways, he could start to encroach on the NCAA record books. Temple's Jim Callahan had five consecutive passes go for touchdowns in one game against Bucknell in 1966. He would turn in 10 consecutive catches for touchdowns that season over the course of five games to set an NCAA record. Westfield leads the nation in yards per catch at 37.83. In fact he leads all players among all divisions with those 37.83 yards per catch.
Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) continues to be on record book watch, but he'll need more touches than he got against UVa-Wise to get there. The 2018 All-American only had six all-purpose plays against the Highland Cavaliers, his lowest output since his freshman season for a full game (Wimbush had two touches against Saint Augustine's in 2017 when he tore his ACL).
"I think you got to wonder about my sanity for not getting him the ball more," Turner said. "But, I think our other kids came in and were very explosive and productive and it got to a point that, you know, that would have been a great time to get him out of it and let him rest and there's going to be other times where he's going to have to get 50 snaps a game. Let me tell you something about that young man. He had 37 snaps and he graded out 37 snaps. He graded at 100 percent – that's a football player. He was perfect in his execution. Most people that understand, it's hard to get that done in football."
Wimbush joined Carson-Newman's 3,000-yard club against Wingate and now has 3,029 yards in his career. He is 10th all-time in rushing yards. He needs 52 yards to move into ninth past Alex Good (3,081). From there, Wimbush could in theory climb all the way to seventh, but it would take an all-time performance against a very good UNCP defense. A 117-yard day (which would also be Wimbush's 14th career 100-yard rushing performance) would vault Wimbush past Andy Hibbett (3,208 yards), while a school-record chasing 262-yard day would put Wimbush on level footing with the single-game school record holder Buck Wakefield (3,291). A three-touchdown day would draw Wimbush level with Leonard Guyton and Heath Hawkins for 11th on the career rushing touchdown chart with 34 career scores.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Braves is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville, Tenn.) The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.