HICKORY, N.C.—Carson-Newman (9-3) had two punts blocked and another fumbled away and Lenoir-Rhyne (13-0) feasted on short field all day in a 49-21 win over the Eagles in the second round of the NCAA playoffs Saturday afternoon at Moretz Stadium.
In addition to the trio of punting miscues, the Eagles also fumbled a septet of times, losing a quartet.
Of Lenoir-Rhyne’s 49 points, 35 were scored either on special teams, or on fields that were shorter than 30 yards.
In addition to the short fields, penalties haunted C-N. Carson-Newman was flagged 15 times for 144 yards compared to Lenoir-Rhyne’s three penalties for 20 yards.
C-N had a trio of 50+-yard passing touchdowns wiped off the board due to holding penalties.
“We’re excited to be where we come from five weeks ago,” Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. “We made some mistakes there early that spotted them and then we fought back. I like the fight in our kids. They never gave up and I was proud of that. We had two or three guys that let the situations get to them. I wish that didn’t happen. We didn’t play it clean enough. We had three touchdowns called back in the ballgame and that certainly didn’t help our cause.”
Lenoir-Rhyne bounded out to a 28-0 lead after a quarter pouncing on miscue after miscue. Tre Luttrell scooped up a blocked punt and returned it 10 yards to the house to put Lenoir-Rhyne on the board before 90 seconds had come off the clock.
The Bears kept up the pressure with two passing TDs to Drake Starks from Grayson Willingham from 14 and 11 yards. The 11-yard score came on a 12-yard field after 37-yard Jaquay Mitchell punt return.
The Eagles fumbled away their ensuing possession before Ameen Stevens raced 30-yards on a dive play to set L-R up 28-0 with 1:10 to play in the first quarter.
As much as the first quarter belonged to the Bears. The second quarter belonged to Carson-Newman.
The Eagles got on the move on the ensuing possession. Carson-Newman converted on a fourth-and-four from the L-R 7, and two plays later, Derrick Evans plunged into the end zone on a one-yard QB keeper to put C-N on the board.
Damarkus Jones stripped L-R running back Jace Jordan four plays later and returned and returned strip for a scoop and score. However, a holding call negated the score and moved the ball back to the L-R 30. C-N still scored when Evans chucked a jump ball to Westfield on the right side of the end zone. With one hand, Westfield pried the ball away from Javoris Smith for a 16-yard touchdown catch.
Carson-Newman got a short field to precede their next score thanks to Antonio Henderson. He pounced on a mishandled exchange between Willingham and Stevens. The Eagles took over at the L-R 41. Seven plays later, Tyler Thackerson hit Westfield on a 12-yard fade along the right side of the end zone.
That pulled C-N within seven, 28-21 with 1:22 to play in the half.
“I just came back from that locker room,” Turner said. “That’s a hard place to talk, to say that we can’t let that game determine the season we just had. We had a great season as a football team. A team that’s fought back and overcome a lot of adversity and a lot of injury. I’m proud of this football team and that can’t get taken away from them. I hate that we’ll meet Monday for the last time with some of them. I wanted us to keep playing just like our kids did.
However, the second half belonged to Lenoir-Rhyne and Stevens. The running back had six carries for 52 yards in the fourth quarter alone. He found the end zone three times after halftime. That set the final margin at 49-21. C-N had a 56-yard pass to Romain Kelly wiped off the board due to a holding penalty, and a 33-yard toss to Westfield called off due to holding as well.
The loss obfuscates a pair of records for the Eagles. Antonio Wimbush led the Eagles with 12 rushes for 91 yards. He finishes his career with 4,003 rushing yards, the third player in school history with more than 4,000 yards rushing.
“He’s a very special young man,” Turner said. “He’s meant a lot as a productive football player. He’s meant as much as that or more as the kind of friend and teammate that he’s been. He’s a guy that you can count on and depend on, on and off the field. I’m very happy for him to get to certain levels in the record book, because nobody will ever forget Antonio Wimbush. I’m happy for him and what he’s accomplished in our program. I’m also excited about the plan God has for him and his future.
Braxton Westfield led all receivers with 10 catches for 139 yards. It was his second career 100-yard receiving performance. His 10 catches are the most of the option era and the third highest for a single-game in school history. He had the first 10-catch performance for C-N since Mike Souder’s 11-catch day against Presbyterian in 1969.
Stevens led Lenoir-Rhyne with 128 yards rushing on 20 carries. He also had four scores.
Daniel Dixon-Brooks led Carson-Newman with nine tackles. Jones had eight stops, a pick, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery – the fourth C-N football player in the last decade to accomplish that stat line.
Jaquan Artis led L-R’s defense with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks.
“Some of those guys when they came here the first year are guys that I personally helped recruit. They’re offensive linemen and tight ends and running backs that I personally coached as an offensive guy. I think it’s been a special group at Carson-Newman, because they’re all online to graduate in December or May. I’m very grateful for them and what they’ve done for this program, how they’ve represented this program. I hope that this program has made a great difference in their life.