GAFFNEY, S.C.—Carson-Newman (7-2, 5-2 South Atlantic Conference) scored the go-ahead touchdown with 19 seconds left to cap a wild 42-35 win over Limestone (3-7, 2-5 SAC) on a crisp Saturday afternoon at The Reservation.
Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Tenn.) called game with a three-yard score in the final 20 seconds to cap a frenetic game that saw Limestone rally from a 24-point deficit, only to lose in the final minute.
"I was proud of the way our football team responded," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "We talked to them last night and this morning, that there's a difference between playing like a brother and playing like a brotherhood. Don't be a football team, be a brotherhood. Refuse to let each other down or let adversity break you. Man, did they back that up today."
After falling into a 24-0 hole, Limestone scored with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter, converted a two-point conversion and then recovered a pooch kick to take a 35-34 lead and set the table for one, the Saints first senior day win, and two the largest come-from-behind victory in school history.
However, Carson-Newman kept its playoff hopes alive with a final four minutes for the ages. On third-and-16, Limestone had the ball at the Carson-Newman 21. Saint quarterback DJ Phillips ran a zone-read option. Damarkus Jones (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) stripped Phillips and Bernard Scott (Hollywood, Fla.) pounced on the loose ball to keep the deficit to one and give C-N the football back with 88 yards to go and 3:14 to go.
"We came out and made some things happen, but it was a dogfight," Turner said. "Those cats have players at Limestone on both sides of the ball. They played their heart out today. I'm proud of our kids and we live to fight another day."
Carson-Newman got help from a defensive holding penalty on Limestone and moved the ball out to their own 37 on four plays. That's when C-N hit the home run ball. Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) lofted a deep ball down the left sideline. Romain Kelly (Spartanburg, S.C.) ran under it and took it down inside the Saints' 13 to set C-N up for late game success.
Freshman tailback Troy Dendy tallied back-to-back carries to get C-N down to the one with 58 seconds left. However, on first-and-goal from the one, C-N was called for a false start. Limestone elected to take the 10 second runoff moving the ball back to the six and the clock down to 48 seconds. Dendy took the ball down to the three before Wimbush capped Carson-Newman's 14th four-quarter comeback since 2001 by powering into the end zone from three yards out off right tackle. Dendy then scored the two-point conversion on the same play type to stretch the lead to a touchdown that ended up being the final margin 42-35.
Limestone had a last ditch chance and moved the ball out to their own 42 with one completion, but Trayzel Jureidini-Wyche (Douglasville, Ga.) sack Phillips to end the game and seal the seven-point road win.
Carson-Newman overcame a trio of turnovers to rush for 364 on 54 touches. C-N piled up 509 yards of total offense, outgaining the Saints 509-388.
Dendy became the first freshman to rush for 200 yards in a single game in program history. He had 200 yards on 23 carries and a score. Dendy's performance was the 37th 200-yard day in program history.
Wimbush added in 89 yards on 12 carries. For the second straight game and the sixth time in his career, Wimbush tallied a three-rushing TD day. He moved up to sixth on the program's all-time rushing list. The game-winner was his 39th career score, putting him in a tie with Alex Good.
Thackerson was also effective rushing with 60 yards on 15 carries. He got his first career start in place of Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) who was suspended for a violation of team rules.
"Tyler, he and Derrick shared time (under center) last year during the season," Turner said. "I think everybody out there had plenty of confidence in him."
The first half was a tale of two quarters. Carson-Newman bounced out to a 24-0 lead before Limestone countered with 17 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes of the half.
C-N struck early and often in the first frame. The Eagles got points four of the first five times they touched the football.
Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) got the party started by hauling in a 53-yard touchdown pass for his seventh TD reception of the season. The lengthy play capped a five-play, 80-yard drive and took 2:28 off the clock.
The Eagles defense forced a quartet of three-and-outs for Limestone in the first quarter, and C-N's offense capitalized on all of them.
Troy Dendy (Laurens, S.C.) raced 62 yards to the house on drive two for a career long rush to stretch the advantage to 14-0.
The Eagles kept it up on their third possession. Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) punctuated the drive with a three-yard rush around left tackle to push the edge to 21-0. The score was Wimbush's 37th career rushing TD and polished an eight-play, 76-yard drive in 3:56.
Carson-Newman's final points of the first half came with 9:38 in the second quarter when Nate Craft (Salem, Va.) pushed a 42-yard field through the uprights.
However, that's when the Saints made their comeback. After Craft's kick, Limestone got on the hop with a 59-yard hookup from DJ Phillips to Quay Brown to put the Saints on the board.
"We had the turnover and they scored pretty quick, two or three snaps," Turner said. "I think that's momentum. Maybe if they had to drive it, it wouldn't have been a swing like it was. You want them to earn everything they get. We let them in the end zone a couple of times too quick and gave them a lift."
Carson-Newman would turn it over on its next two possessions with an interception and a fumble. The Saints put through a Thomas Cook 22-yard field goal to capitalize on the pick, and used a seven-play, 31-yard drive to get within a touchdown with 16 seconds left in the first half on a Jer'koya Patton four-yard drag route to capitalize on the fumble. Carson-Newman took a 24-17 lead into the halftime locker room in spite of Limestone scoring 17 unanswered.
The teams traded scores in the second half before Limestone grabbed the lead after C-N traded a field goal for a touchdown.
Limestone lit the lamp first in the second half with a Cook 47-yard field goal to make it 20 unanswered for the Saints.
Carson-Newman finally put a halt to the Saints' run after Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) returned a punt 17 yards to the Limestone 39 to give the Eagles a short field.
Four plays later, Wimbush took an option pitch 19 yards to the house to make it a two-score game against with 2:19 to play in the third quarter.
Limestone quickly countered with a six-play, 57-yard drive that Malik Brooks capped with a seven-yard score.
Three possessions later, Rondrow Peebles (Knoxville, Tenn.) picked off Phillips for C-N's 18th INT of the season. He weaved his way 45 yards back down the field to give C-N the ball at the Saints 22. However, C-N went three and out and had to settle for a Craft 38-yard field goal.
That's when Limestone struck to complete its comeback, at least momentarily. On a fourth-and-one, Brooks scampered 22-yards for a score, then Alex Morton converted the two-point attempt to give Limestone the 35-34 lead and set the stage for the wild finish.
Peebles led Carson-Newman's defense with 11 tackles, a sack and a pick. Jones had 10 stops and a forced fumble.
Phillips passed for 254 yards and two scores, but was just 15-of-33 through the air. He spread his 15 completions among seven receivers. Juwan Scott had four catches for 72 yards, Brown had three for 113 yards.
Patton led Limestone's ground game with 94 yards on 16 carries.
Carson-Newman wraps up the regular season Saturday with the resumption of the second oldest rivalry game in the state of Tennessee against Tusculum. Kickoff with the Pioneers is set for 1 p.m.