JEFFERSON CITY—Carson-Newman (1-0) pounded out 334 yards rushing behind its vaunted veer-option attack and stiff-armed West Florida (0-1) 20-13 to open the season Thursday night at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
"This was a great team win and exactly what you wanted in a first home game," head coach Mike Turner said. "It took everyone, offense, defense and special teams. I'm so proud of how they complimented one another. They learned that it took four quarters and your best shot to beat a great West Florida team. I hope they understand they can play anyone as long as they trust each other."
Senior signal caller Derrick Evans operated the offense smoothly, tallying his fourth career 100-yard rushing performance off an 18-carry, 133-yard day.
Evans was also 8-for-14 through the air for 88 yards. He had a 77-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Westfield called back because of holding.
"Derrick made plays," Turner said. "When he watches the video, he'll see some things that he tried to force. However, that's also him being a competitor. He is a winner. And the people around him are winners."
Toot Johnson added 86 yards on 12 carries, while Antonio Wimbush produced 81 yards on 13 touches and a score. Those tallies moved him up C-N's career record book. The touchdown was the 31st of his career, moving him into a tie for 13th all-time with Robert Hardy. The 81 yards give him 2,961, one yard more than Tyron Douglas for 11th all-time.
Johnson ripped off a 51-yard rush to give Carson-Newman a rush of a half a hundred yards or more for the 12th time in 14 weeks.
Carson-Newman's ground game, coupled with a lead and a desire to churn clock late led C-N to a 35:29-24:31 advantage in time of possession.
"I think it showed how hard they've worked," Turner said. "Our conditioning showed up tonight. They had a toughness about them, both physically and mentally. Those were both on our side tonight. This wasn't a baby step, this was a big step."
As solid as the Eagles' rushing attack was, the defense was just as active. Carson-Newman forced a quartet of three and outs and limited the Argos to 262 yards of total offense. UWF only had 68 yards rushing.
Junior mike linebacker Rondrow Peebles was a big impetus for the Eagles' defensive dominance. The Central product wrapped up 11 tackles with three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
"My teammates and I had to come ready to play," Peebles said. "Coach Slade had us prepared for everything. Defensive line filled gaps and it was there for me to make the play."
Carson-Newman got the scoring rolling on its third possession. Toot Johnson burst 51 yards on the first play of the possession to get down to the two. A play later, Antonio Wimbush burst into the endzone on a two-yard running back lead play to put C-N up 7-0 with 2:52 to play in the first quarter.
West Florida countered two possessions later. Jervon Newton plunged in from three yards away to finish a seven-play, 56-yard drive in 3:04. However, Austin Williams stoinked the PAT off the right upright to keep C-N in front 7-6.
Carson-Newman would take care of all the scoring in the second quarter. Nate Craft buried field goals of 20 and 35 yards to go in front 13-6 at the halftime break.
However, it was also a first half of missed opportunities. Johnson fumbled inside the five on the Eagles' first drive to keep points off the board, and a holding penalty wiped a 77-yard touchdown pass to Westfield off the board.
The teams swapped punts on their first two drives of the second half before the Argos looked to put together a game-tying possession. West Florida marched down to the Carson-Newman 29 on a 12-play drive that started back at the Argos own 20. However, quarterback Austin Reed fired four straight incompletions and the Argos turned the ball over on downs with 6:44 to play in the third at the Eagles' 34.
Carson-Newman slowly responded. C-N appeared to have gone three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but a roughing the quarterback call moved the chains extended the drive. Six plays later, C-N faced a third-and-15 from the Argos 43. Evans rolled right looking to throw, but instead, slipped a tackle in the backfield, saw green in front of him and scampered 43 yards to give C-N its first two-score lead of the day.
The Eagles were in front 20-6 with 4:01 to play in the third following Nate Craft's PAT.
"When I took my drop, I just went through my read and they had everything covered," Evans said. "I had a rush off to the left, I stepped up and I saw nothing but green. I just did what I was taught and had to get to the end zone."
Then the Eagles put the game on ice with vintage Carson-Newman tactics. After a UWF three-and-out, C-N put together a beefy 10-play, 23-yard drive that milked 7:03 off the clock. Carson-Newman didn't come away with points after a chop block put the Eagles in a second and 30 situation.
West Florida took advantage on its ensuing possession. Reed hit Tate Lehtio for a nine-yard touchdown catch to bring the Eagles' lead back down to a touchdown with 6:53 to play.
However, Carson-Newman marched 62 yards on 13 plays to freeze West Florida out. C-N's drive stalled out at the UWF 12 with 31 seconds left. Craft's 29-yard try was blocked to give UWF one final shot with a half minute left.
The Argos navigated down to the C-N 45 for a final play with two seconds left. However, Trayzel Jureidini-Wyche sneaked into the backfield to drop Reed for a sack and end the game.
Carson-Newman won its home opener for a seventh time in eight years and improved to 31-8 on opening day since 1980.
Reed was the bailiwick for the UWF offense. After J.C. Robles was pulled at quarterback after starting and playing two series, Reed came in to lead UWF in rushing with 33 yards on 12 carries. He also completed 15-of-29 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.
Lehtio did the bulk of the heavy lifting for the UWF receiving corps. He caught seven passes for 79 yards and a score.
Westfield and Trevor Makarov each hauled in two passes for C-N. Westfield led C-N's receiving corps with 30 yards.
Andre Duncombe led West Florida defensively with eight tackles and 3.5 for loss. TJ Limehouse and Ian Bush also each had eight stops.
The Eagles break for 16 days before opening SAC play with Wingate on Sept. 21. Kickoff with the Bulldogs from Irwin Belk Stadium is set for 6 p.m.