GREENEVILLE—The Tusculum Pioneers will begin defense of their South Atlantic Conference football championship from last spring as the Sons of Davy Crockett host the Limestone Saints in the league lid-lifter for both teams. Kick-off is slated for 3 p.m. from the Niswonger Sports Complex and Pioneer Field.
The Pioneers (1-1, 0-0 SAC) will be looking to rebound from last week’s 46-38 double-overtime loss to Chowan in TU’s home-opener. Tusculum had a pair of double-digit leads in the opening half, but were outscored 29-14 after halftime.
The Saints’ scheduled home game with St. Augustine’s last Saturday was canceled due to COVID protocols within the SAU program. Limestone (0-1, 0-0 SAC) opened the season Sep. 4 with a 37-16 road loss at North Greenville.
Saturday’s conference clash will be the seventh meeting between the Pioneers and Saints. TU owns a 5-1 series lead including victories in the last three encounters. Tusculum posted a 49-16 win over Limestone last April at Pioneer Field to secure TU a spot in the SAC Championship game. TU is 3-0 against the Saints in Greeneville and have outscored LU by a 120-39 margin in those games.
Limestone’s lone victory in the series came in 2017 as the Saints outlasted the Pioneers 30-24 in overtime in Gaffney, South Carolina. Current TU quarterback Ivan Corbin was the Saints starting signal caller in that 2017 encounter.
This will mark the fourth time Tusculum and Limestone have opened conference play against one another as the Pioneers are 2-1 in SAC openers with the Saints.
LAST WEEK’S GAME
Corbin amassed 332 total offensive yards and accounted for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough as Chowan rallied to defeat the Pioneers 46-38 in double overtime at Pioneer Field.
The visitors trailed throughout most of the game but scored 17 straight points to take their first lead of the game at 31-24 with 5:25 remaining in regulation. TU marched 80 yards in 12 plays and scored the game-tying touchdown on a Bryce Moore one-yard run with 48 seconds left.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime. Chowan had the ball first in the second overtime period and scored a TD and converted the two-point conversion for a 46-38 lead. Tusculum fumbled on its first play of the second OT period and were penalized for intentional grounding on the second play setting up a third down and 37 yards to go. TU got 27 yards back on a Corbin to Derrick Wright completion. But the fourth down pass fell incomplete to end the game.
The Tusculum defense forced two turnovers including an interception by Trey Trawick who returned the pick for a 38-yard touchdown. The second turnover forced, an interception by Kahmari Lovett set up an Eli Shepherd field goal with 33 seconds remaining before halftime.
Corbin rushed for a career-high 93 yards and a touchdown, while also passing for 239 yards and two scores. Tyler Ajiero was his top target as he made eight catches for 79 yards, while Justice Parham had five receptions for 78 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown to get the TU scoring started.
Chowan outgained Tusculum 460-352 in total yards, while the two teams combined for 21 penalties for 221 yards.
SCOUTING THE PIONEERS
Tusculum will be looking to win its fourth SAC opener in the last five seasons when the Limestone Saints visit Pioneer Field.
The Pioneers continue to be the top scoring offense in the league as TU is averaging 48 points per contest which is ranked seventh in NCAA Division II. TU also leads the conference in first down offense (51 – 8th in NCAA II). Defensively, Tusculum is tops in the country in defensive touchdowns as the Pioneers have scored three in just two games. The TU is also best in the conference with four turnovers gained (34th in NCAA II), punt returns average (9.6 ypr – 45th in NCAA II) and punt return defense (0.00 – 13th in NCAA II).
Saturday’s game with Limestone will have special meaning for Tusculum quarterback Ivan Corbin, who was the starting signal caller for the Saints in 2016 and 2017. During his 17-game career in Gaffney, Corbin recorded 15 starts under center where he totaled 2,407 passing yards and tossed for 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 410 yards and six TDs on the ground.
This year, Corbin is averaging 273.5 total offensive yards per game (3rd in SAC / 34th in NCAA II) has accounted for four touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing). The Warner Robins, Georgia graduate student has gone 31-of-60 for 443 passing yards and three touchdowns and has ran for 104 yards on 25 carries and a TD. Last week against Chowan, Corbin amassed 334 total offensive yards including a career-best 93 yards rushing to go along with 20-of-35 passing for 239 yards and two scores.
Senior running back Maurice Gomillion is averaging 55.5 yards per game including 6.2 yards per carry. He has scored two touchdowns and is 205 yards away from eclipsing the 1,000-rushing yard mark for his Tusculum career. Gomillion ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns in TU’s 58-14 season-opening win at St. Augustine’s two weeks ago.
Corbin is the team’s second-leading rusher averaging 52 yards per game while junior running back Cortney Jackson is third averaging 38.5 yards per contest with a touchdown.
Sophomore Tyler Ajiero leads the TU receiving corps with 10 receptions, while also compiling 105 receiving yards.
Junior Justice Parham is tops on the roster and second in the league with his 176 receiving yards (48th in NCAA II) on his nine catches including two going for touchdowns (2nd in SAC / 48th in NCAA II). Parham also tops the team with his three explosive plays covering 20-plus yards. Senior Derrick Wright is third with six receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Tusculum offensive line features the quintet of Andrew Theobald, Mike Peppin, Thomas Mahoney, Tremaine Chatman and Ben Shellenback. Will Shellenbeck has earned the start at tight end in both games, while Bryce Moore, who started at quarterback in the 2019 season, has been seeing playing time at tight end this year where he has recorded a pair of receptions.
Senior linebacker Jahaud Russ leads the TU defense with 10 tackles, all coming in last week’s game with Chowan. In that game he also posted three tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Senior Raynell Killian is second on the roster with nine tackles including two for loss and a sack. The Valdosta State transfer also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD in the season-opener at St. Augustine’s.
Senior linebacker Craig Watts has nine tackles for his credit with two QB hurries and a pass break-up. Senior nose guard Quaheim Glasgow also has nine stops including three hits behind the line of scrimmage, a sack and scored a TD on a 20-yard fumble return two weeks ago.
Junior defensive end Nelson Louis leads the Pioneers with four sacks which includes a forced fumble. The 2018 SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year has eight tackles this year and his 17 career sacks are tied for fifth-most by a Pioneer.
Sophomore defensive back Trey Trawick returned an interception for a 38-yard touchdown last week against Chowan. Trawick has eight tackles to his credit. Freshman defensive back Kahmari Lovett also had an interception last week which led to a Tusculum field goal. Lovett has made seven tackles including two for loss.
Tusculum’s top scorer this year has been sophomore kicker Eli Shepherd. The Greeneville, Tennessee product has 17 points, going 11-of-12 on extra points and 2-of-3 on field goals. His 90 career kicking points moves him into a tie for seventh place in school history.
Veteran Andrew Cantrell is in his fourth campaign as TU starting punter. The Sparta, Tennessee senior is averaging 39.3 yards per punt on his seven kicks with four resulting in fair catches and one inside the 20-yard line.
The duo of Justice Parham and freshman Kanon Hall have handled the punt return chores this young season. Parham is averaging 7.7 yards per return, while Hall has a 12.5 ypr average. Derrick Wright has been TU’s primary returner on kickoffs, averaging 25.5 yards per return.
The Limestone Saints will be seeing their first action in two weeks after having last Saturday’s home-opener with St. Augustine’s postponed. LU head coach Brian Turk is in his fourth season on the sidelines in Gaffney.
The Saints went 1-3 during the COVID abbreviated spring campaign defeated UVA Wise (30-24) and suffered setbacks to West Alabama (27-17), Tusculum (49-17) and Mars Hill (42-35 OT). Two years ago, Limestone went 3-8 as the Saints recorded victories against Catawba, UNC Pembroke and UVA Wise.
Sophomore quarterback Dustin Noller has played in every offensive snap this season for the Saints. He passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opener at North Greenville. He went 21-of-38 with two interceptions. He also rushed for 11 yards on five carries. He also started in all four spring games for Limestone where he threw nine TD tosses including two against Tusculum.
Cedric Smith has made four catches for 59 yards, while the trio of Jadarius Hector, Joshua Gary and Caden Peeler have made three receptions apiece.
Anthony McAfee is leading the rushing attack for Limestone, running for 72 yards on 15 carries two weeks ago. The Coastal Carolina transfer played in all four games in the spring. He hauled in an 11-yard TD toss from Noller in the spring meeting with Tusculum.
He didn’t play in the opener at North Greenville, but listed on the LU depth chart in the offensive backfield is 2017 SAC Offensive Freshman of the Year Jerko’ya Patton. The 2019 All-SAC second team choice has rushed for a school-record 2,664 yards and 20 touchdowns in his 33-game career with the Saints.
Patton logged back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances against the Pioneers in his first two meetings against TU. In his 2017 rookie campaign, he ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a three-yard scamper with 33 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. He followed with the game-winning 40-yard TD run on the first play in overtime in a 30-24 victory over Tusculum. He also ran for 100 yards on 13 carries in the 2018 game. But in the last two meetings, Patton has been held to 40 yards on 16 attempts combined.
Jaiden Clayton leads the Saints defensively with 12 total tackles including 2.5 for loss and a pair of sacks. Zane Boozer has been credited with seven tackles and one for loss, while the trio of Kris Williams, Kendrick Knight and Dylan Reeves have made six tackles apiece. Williams leads the team with his four pass break-ups.
Nathan Baker will be handling the extra point and field goal kicking duties while Austin Kemp is the punter where he is averaging 41.3 yards per boot. Kemp is also manning the kickoff chores on special teams.