VIDEO: Stephen Lyons Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Nearly a month removed from its last match on the banks of Mossy Creek, Carson-Newman returns home on Saturday looking to maintain its lead in the South Atlantic Conference standings as No. 19 Wingate pays a visit to McCown Field for Senior Night.
"We're excited. It's been a pretty crazy October on the road," Carson-Newman coach Stephen Lyons said. "The guys have handled it well, played some good football and so it's important that we just transition that onto the home field in Saturday's game."
Carson-Newman (10-3-1, 6-1-1 SAC) holds a three-point advantage on Wingate (9-2-2, 5-2-1 SAC) heading into the penultimate match of the regular season. A C-N victory for all intents and purposes would give the Eagles their first regular season championship since 2015 and their 10th overall. They hold 19 points on the league table with two conference matches remaining while Wingate trails at 16, also with a pair of SAC matches ahead. The only other team in the top four with two matches remaining in SAC play is Queens who is tied for third with 15 points.
The Eagles head into the last week of the regular season looking to boost their postseason resume. In Wednesday's initial region rankings, C-N was slotted at ninth in Super-Region 2, currently sliding it into tournament contention for the first time since 2015.
The numerous postseason implications surrounding the game add magnitude to the senior night match that will honor 10 Eagles who will hang up their cleats for the Orange and Blue at the end of this season, five of those being players who have been at C-N for four years.
"They've been phenomenal. I've had the pleasure of working with them for three years with them, but they've all bought into what we've asked. They've all done exceptionally well. Even if it's a role part within the team, like I've said, they've all been phenomenal and they'll continue to have an impact on how the season goes."
Wingate enters Jefferson City as the second nationally-ranked side the Eagles have faced this season. They defeated then-No. 15 Coker on Oct. 12 1-0 in double-overtime, marking C-N's first win over a ranked team in two years. The Eagles are 16-18-5 against ranked opponents since 2003 and has not seen multiple wins over ranked sides since 2015 when it defeated three nationally-ranked sides.
Through this season, Wingate has been ranked as high as 12th in the nation in the early parts of October before falling to Newberry, 3-2, on Oct. 5. It was also positioned at No. 6 in the Super-Region 2 rankings this week with a 4-1-1 record in region matches with a .512 strength of schedule in those meetings.
The Bulldogs enter the contest with a three-match winning streak after taking down Salem on Wednesday 5-0 for Senior Day. In that span, they have notched three-straight shutouts, outscoring opponents 9-0.
"They're just solid," Lyons said. "The entire group is high-quality players that really don't have a weakness. Definitely one of the best teams in the conference and deservedly 19 in the nation so we know that we're going to have to bring our best game to them. I think it'll be a good one Saturday night."
Gary Hamill's group has gone 3-2 when playing on the road this season. Those two losses came in their last three away matches, falling to Tusculum, 1-2, on Oct. 13 and Newberry, 2-3, on Oct. 5.
Wingate sits in the top five of eight statistical categories within the SAC. It leads the conference with 37 goals, 2.85 goals for average, an .83 goals against average and seven shutouts. It has allowed the fewest goals this season at 11 while needed the fewest saves with 38. Nationally, it is fifth for goals on average and ninth for points per game.
Freshman Paul Ngongo leads the conference with 12 goals, six game-winners and 27 points. Nationally, the forward is second for game-winning goals, tied for fifth at one goal per game and seventh with 2.25 points per game. He has been named the SAC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.
Returning for his senior season is Elliot Cutts who has accounted for nine goals this year with one game-winner. The midfielder sits at 21st among active career leaders in Division II with 27 goals and 0.57 goals per game. He is 30th with 62 points.
Jens Bergendorff has started in net for a majority of the Bulldogs' matches this season, holding an 8-2-2 record. He has allowed 11 goals on 31 saves with five shutouts. He leads the SAC in goals against and shutouts.
In the overall series between Wingate and C-N, the Bulldogs hold a 12-17-5 lead, winning each of the last three matches. It has been four years since the Eagles last saw a win, taking down a then-No. 7 Wingate squad, 4-1, at McCown Field. When hosting the Bulldogs, the Eagles have gone 8-7-0 since 1991.
Carson-Newman left Wingate last year with a 2-0 loss. The Bulldogs got on the board in the ninth minute with a goal from Stuart Hendry before Soren Nygaard added on the finishing touch in the 54th minute. The Eagles matched their lowest shooting tally of the season as Wingate held them to just six shots with one on goal.
Saturday's match is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. with the seniors being honored at halftime of the women's match that starts at 5 p.m. Fans who cannot make it to McCown Field can sit back and take in a live broadcast of the match at cneagles.com/live.