JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (CN Release) – Carson-Newman (9-2) withstood a 28-point second half comeback from Lenoir-Rhyne (9-3) to hold on for a 38-35 second round win in the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
Carson-Newman advances the quarterfinals to face top-seeded Valdosta State on the road after the Blazers knocked out West Alabama 49-21.
The Eagles trailed L-R 35-31 following an Austin Beaty seven-yard plunge up the middle for the Bears with 8:51 left in the fourth. However, Carson-Newman followed that with 14-play, 66-yard drive capped by a Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.) around the left side of the line to set the final at 38-35.
“We had so many choices to make today,” Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks said. “There were so many times where we could have backed up or stepped up.
“There were so many times we could have disintegrated from within or we could glue together and decide that we were going to get it done. I’m proud of our kids for getting it done.”
The Eagles had the lead at the break 24-7 after keeping the Bears out of the end zone on the final drive of the half.
Second team All-SAC quarterback Rueben Haynes fired a pass along the numbers on the right sideline to Artis Gilmore within five yards of the end zone. But Oliver Davis (Acworth, Ga.) and Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.) turned the Bear wideout back while also draining the five remaining seconds in the first half off the clock.
“It kept them from getting a full burst of momentum and gave us a full shot of momentum when we were struggling to get it,” Sparks said.
Lenoir-Rhyne outrushed the Eagles for a third consecutive contest in a battle of option styles 425-397, but the Eagles wound up with more total yards 504-468. The yards on the ground and total offense were the most the Bears had given up all season. L-R’s rush defense was ranked 10th in the nation entering the contest, giving up 90 yards/game.
The game saw six different players crest the 100-yard threshold, three from each team. Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) led all players with 145 yards on 24 carries, while Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) and Haywood followed suit with century mark games for the Eagles with 130 and 108 yard respectively. Haywood’s 34 carries marked the first time an Eagle rushed the ball more than 30 times in a game since Nate Inman, rushed 33 times for 280 yards against Tusculum in 2011. All four Eagle ball carriers – Andy Hibbett (Corryton, Tenn.) – scored touchdowns, with Douglas getting into the end zone twice.
Meanwhile, L-R got 100-yard days from Jarrod Spears (11-138), Isaiah Whitaker (16-114) and Beaty (14-102).
Carson-Newman turned the ball over three times – twice in the second half. L-R turned two of those takeaways into points.
Consequently, the Eagles didn’t punt until their final possession of the game, stopping L-R one final time after the Bears had scored on their first four possessions of the second half.
“We’re making memories you can’t buy,” Sparks said. “We get another week together and teach us and grow us another week. We get a laboratory of learning and to see what football does for us for another week.”
Haywood was solid through the air, completing six of his seven passes for 108 yards. Haywood becomes the first 1,000-yard passer for C-N since 2009 when Alex Good turned in an 1,800-yard season.
The Eagles received a 13-tackle performance from Greg Beauduy (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) and 10 stops from Jamar Neal (Columbia, Tenn.) in his first game back from an injury he sustained in Carson-Newman’s homecoming game against North Greenville.
Xavier Stephens (Miami, Fla.) blocked a Zach Neumann field goal in the first half to help out the defensive cause as well. It was Stevens’ third blocked kick of the season.
The Eagles face Valdosta State for a right to play in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Playoffs Saturday at noon. Coverage on the Coca-Cola Eagle Sports Network begins at 11 a.m.