JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman looks to close out the regular season on a high-note as it takes the short trek to Greeneville, Tenn. to tussle with South Atlantic Conference rival Tusculum on Wednesday night under the lights of Pioneer Field.
"This is a big conference rivalry so it's going to be a big game for the boys," Carson-Newman coach Stephen Lyons said. "I think the guys can taking confidence out of Saturday's performance, but we need to keep doing what we've been doing all seasons and hopefully good results will continue to come. The energy in the group is really good right now. Hopefully that can transition on the pitch on Wednesday."
The regular season finale comes with some weight for Carson-Newman (10-3-2, 6-1-2 SAC) as it sits atop the league standings with 20 points after gaining just one point in Saturday's 2-2 draw with No. 19 Wingate. The Eagles hold just a two-point lead in the table with Queens in second with 18.
A victory over Tusculum (6-6-2, 5-3-1 SAC) would give the Eagles their first regular season championship since 2015 and first out-right title since 2009. A tie would mean at worst a share of the title if Queens were to win its match with Anderson. A loss would leave the Orange and Blue's fate completely in the hands of the Queens-Anderson match.
The Eagles trail the Pioneers in the overall series 12-18-5 but hold a 6-5-2 advantage when playing in Greeneville. C-N has not seen a win at Tusculum since Oct. 27, 2015. Since then, it has gone 1-2-1, losing the last two meetings.
Ninth-year coach Allen Vital's group is tied for fourth in the SAC standings with 16 points and holds the second-longest winning streak in the league at three-in-a-row. The last time the Pioneers took to the pitch, they defeated Mars Hill, 2-0. They have gone 4-1 in their past five outings with the lone blemish coming in a 2-1 loss at Lincoln Memorial. In that span, they have outshot their opponents 16-8.
"Tusculum has had few good results as of late and have a good bit of form, but we're in good form, as well," Lyons said. "They've got some very creative and attacking threats so we need to be aware of them and stick to our game plan."
Henrique Devens and Nikola Vujicic lead the Pioneers with a combined 15 goals this season.
Devens leads the Pioneers with eight goals, six of those coming against SAC teams. The senior midfielder holds a team-high five assists for 21 points with two game-winning goals. He is second in the league for points per game at 1.75 and third for assists. Devens was named the SAC Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 29 after netting a hat trick and recording an assist in his team's 5-2 win over Coker. He is the first Pioneer in over a decade to score a hat trick.
Vujicic has been a breakout player for the Pioneers within the past six matches, scoring a goal in each of those contests. The senior has totaled seven goals on the season, including one game-winner, for 14 points. His 0.64 goals per game is good enough for fifth in the SAC.
Sam Gilbert has been the primary goalkeeper for the Pioneers this season, starting in 11 of his 12 appearances with a 6-4-2 record overall, 5-3-1 against the SAC. The junior has been credited with a pair of shutouts this season with 44 saves and 18 goals against. His 1.507 goals against average places him at seventh in the league.
Last season brought two meetings between the rivals with Tusculum winning both matches, once in the regular season and again in the SAC Semifinals. That final meeting resulted in Tusculum ending C-N's SAC Tournament run and season with a 2-0 decision in Rock Hill, S.C.
Wednesday's match from Pioneer Field is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. Tusculum will provide a live stream of the match along with live stats while fans can also following along with @CNathletics on Twitter.