JEFFERSON CITY—A complete effort on both sides of the ball for Carson-Newman, including a tied for the most sacks in a single game in team history with 10, to honor its 25 senior on their senior day with a 49-13 throttling of South Atlantic Conference rival Tusculum on Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium to close out the regular season.
"It was a great win," Carson-Newman coach Mike Turner said. "It was a great win as a team in all phases of the game. I was so proud of them for the most part for keeping their composure going against the odds on some things. They did that, they executed like we wanted to in terms of starting the game and get it rolling.
"For those 25 seniors, you know, senior day will always be special for them and this is a game they will remember, and I hope this is a great mark for our football program. It's a great way to end the first part of 2019, and we get to keep that story going right now which is going to be awesome."
With the sacks, Carson-Newman (8-2, 6-2 SAC) forced Tusculum (5-6, 4-4 SAC) to lose 60-yards worth of field positioning throughout the day, tacking on 15 tackles for loss for a total of 72 yards. C-N held Tusculum to minus-35 net yards on the ground, the third-most by a C-N opponent in a single game. Tusculum lost 72 yards lost while only finding 37-yards of positive yardage.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles were just as stout, outgaining the Pioneers by a staunch 451-149 margin. C-N 348 yards via the rush with six touchdowns on the group. Through the air, the Eagles soared with 115 yards with one score.
The Eagles' special teams corps also had quite the day, sending out nine punts for an average of 73 yards. Five of those punts landed deep in Tusculum territory.
C-N held Tusculum scoreless through the first two quarters with the Pioneers finding the endzone just two times in the second half, one trip in each of the final two quarters.
After the teams swapped three and outs on their first two possessions to open the contest, Carson-Newman took over.
C-N got rolling through the air on its second possession. Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) went 2-for-2 for 54 yards on the drive. Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) snagged the second of the two passes for a 35-yard score to give C-N a 7-0 advantage 6:55 into the game.
After a Pioneer three-and-out, Carson-Newman got back to work. On fourth-and-two, Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) ripped off an 18-yard rush and broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage for his 40th career rushing touchdown. That gave C-N a 14-0 lead with 2:26 to play in the first quarter.
Tusculum picked up its only first down of the half on its next possession on a 17-yard slant to Jacob Moss. However, the Pioneers were forced to punt and TU pinned C-N at its own nine.
The poor field position didn't matter. C-N marched down the field on a 10-play, 91-yard drive that milked 5:12 off the clock. Thackerson hit Romain Kelly (Spartanburg, S.C.) for a 42-yard bomb to flip field position. Three plays later, Devon Moore (Baxley, Ga.) took a 20-yard reverse to the house to set the Eagles up 21-0 with 9:32 to play in the second.
"Play action, you know, our kids did a great job of protecting the quarterback to be able to get play action like that and get the ball up into the air," Turner said. "It is great to watch Braxton Westfield and Romain Kelly and those cats go do that and watch Devon Moore today take a reverse that maybe wasn't blocked all that well, but let me tell you how good it was blocked; nobody had a penalty flag on them. They all had their hands up in the air and doing it like they're supposed to. You get the ball into the hands of that young man and those things are going to happen."
Desmond Fairell seized his 19th career pick two drives later to give C-N the ball at the Tusculum 23. Two plays later, Troy Dendy (Laurens, S.C.) raced into the end zone from 22 yards away on a dive play to give C-N a 28-0 lead with 2:13 to play in the half.
Carson-Newman outgained Tusculum 297-5 in the first half. The Pioneers had negative 24 yards rushing in the first half.
It was Tusculum who struck first in the second half on an eight-play drive down the field that ended with Joaquin Collazo finding Tory Ponder on a 35-yard look with 10:47 left to play in the third quarter. Eli Shepherd failed to make the ensuing extra point attempt, cutting the C-N lead to 28-6.
C-N swiftly answered on the following drive with the ball on its own 32-yard line. Wimbush made a 67-yard dash toward the endzone but TU's Dee Alford forced him down just a yard shy, giving the Orange and Blue a healthy first and goal. Thackerson called his own number on the next play with a one-yard push up the middle, pushing the Eagles' lead to 35-6 with 10:11 left in the game.
The drive was the quickest scoring push the Eagles saw on the day, needing a mere 23 seconds to extend the lead.
The Eagles' defense made a crucial stop and capitalized on a dropped possession from Tusculum on the next drive. Collazo was taken down on a four-yard loss, forcing the ball loose. Wycleff Phanor (Naples, Fla.) swooped in for the scoop, giving the Eagles solid field position at Tusculum's 20-yard line.
C-N used a trio of rushes on its next possession with the final one being a 13-yard score on the ground from Thackerson for a 42-6 lead with 8:03 left in the frame.
After trading unsuccessful drives that led to punts, C-N got the ball with just under four minutes left in the quarter on Tusculum's 36 after the defense provided little movement from the Pioneers deep in their own territory.
The Eagles used five positive rushing attempts from three different players to put them in a spot to score. On second and five, Thackerson kept the ball for a five-yard jog into the endzone for his third-straight scoring run of the day and the final scoring opportunity of the frame, extending C-N's lead to 49-6 with a 1:10 left in the quarter.
The lone scoring drive of the final quarter belonged to Tusculum on an eight-play, 62-yard drive through 3:34 of playing time. The Pioneers saw two added first downs in the drive before its final play in the drive. Bryce Moore connected with Ponder on a 23-yard pass but the ball was forced out by Zach Talley (Duncan, S.C.) at the goal line. Jacob Moss recovered the open ball at the one-yard line before making his way into the endzone for the final score of the day with C-N up 49-13 with 4:04 remaining.
In what could be his last home game in the Orange and Blue, Wimbush led everyone on the field with 159 all-purpose yards. His 148 yards on the ground mark his 16th 100-yard rushing day, putting him just one shy of the second-most in team history. The touchdown he scored in the game makes him the sixth player in school history with 40 career rushing scores, tying him with Tyron Douglas at that sixth-place position.
"He's one of those guys that deserves that kind of day," Turner said. "He works hard enough to get in but he deserved that kind of day and getting the football in his hands. He got the football a couple of times there and wasn't going to be denied."
Thackerson proved to be effective for C-N in both passing and rushing. He threw for his second-most yards in his career at 115. On the ground, his three trips to the endzone also tallied as a career day, being the most he has scored in a single game.
Four different receivers saw passes from Thackerson come their way. Kelly was the leader of the group with two receptions on four targets for 63 yards
Trayzel Jureidini-Wyche (Douglasville, Ga.) packed on eight total tackles in the outing, six being solo grabs. He accounted for nearly five of C-N's 10 sacks in the game with six tackles for loss. Rondrow Peebles (Knoxville, Tenn.) also brought in five solo tackles of his own with three sacks.
Collazo led TU's quarterbacks with 83 yards, completing six of his 15 attempts with a touchdown and an interception. Ponder was the top received for the Pioneers with five receptions for 96 yards.
On the ground, Thurlow Wilkins led the way with four yards on 13 attempts.
The Eagles now gear up to make their first appearance in the postseason since 2015 with their 26th trip to the NCAA playoffs.