JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (Carson-Newman College) — The seniors on the Carson-Newman football team know what it takes to win a South Atlantic Conference title.
Since their arrival to Mossy Creek in 2007, the Eagles have claimed three straight SAC crowns, and the seniors will have an opportunity to lead C-N one step closer to another championship in their final game at Burke-Tarr Stadium on Saturday.
The Eagles (6-3, 4-1), who are in a three-way tie for first in the conference standings, are set to face Lenoir-Rhyne on Senior Day. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
“We want to play well for the seniors,” C-N head coach Ken Sparks said. “We want to make sure that we play like we are supposed to play. These 12 seniors have never lost a conference title and they need to step up and the rest of us need to follow their lead to get it done.”
C-N kept its title hopes alive last week with a 35-13 win at Newberry despite turning the ball over six times. The Eagles held a 14-10 lead at the half before turning things around during the final 30 minutes.
“We got some things done in the second half that we intended to do the whole ballgame. It was like two different teams.” Sparks stated. “The defense came through and held them to three points in the second half, and that was huge.”
“We gave ourselves a mountain to climb and are very fortunate that we got over the mountain. We were fortunate at least in the second half to start looking like a team that had a little purpose about it.”
One of the main reasons C-N was able to bounce back from the turnovers was the play of freshman running back Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.). Douglas had a breakout game, rushing for 186 yards and four touchdowns at an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
“He played very well,” Sparks said. “He gave us a lift at a time when we needed a lift.”
The Eagles finished the contest with a season-high 451 yards on the ground and they currently lead the nation in rushing with an average of 317 yards per game.
The Bears (5-4, 2-3) enter Saturday on the heels of a 27-24 loss to Wingate. Sparks said Lenoir-Rhyne is one of the best 5-4 teams out there, as its losses have been by a combined 14 points.
“They could be undefeated,” said Sparks, whose team rallied for a 17-13 win over the Bears last season. “I thought they would compete for a conference title this year because they have 17 starters back. All of those guys have played two or three years and have been through the briar patch. Fundamentally, they are as good as any team we will face. I guarantee that. You have to go beat Lenoir-Rhyne. They are not going to beat themselves.”
The Bears have had plenty of success on offense this season running their wishbone attack, ranking third nationally in rushing with an average of 297.7 yards per game. The Bears also lead the SAC in time of possession, holding the ball nearly 35 minutes per contest.
Sophomore quarterback Major Herron has been a key part of Lenoir-Rhyne’s success. Herron, a Kingsland, Ga., native, leads the team in rushing with 728 yards and 13 touchdown. He has also thrown for 744 yards and two scores.
“They are not one dimensional,” Sparks said. “(Herron) can throw the ball as well. He’s pretty dangerous with the ball in his hands.”
Defensively, the Bears are at or near the top of every major statistical category in the conference. Lenoir-Rhyne ranks first in scoring defense (21.3), rushing defense (75.6) and total defense (279.3). The Bears are also third in pass defense (203.8).
Senior safety Marcus Shuford has been an anchor for Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense this season. Shuford, a first team All-SAC performer, leads the team in tackles with 67 and also has two interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Saturday will be the 51st meeting between C-N and Lenoir-Rhyne. The Eagles lead the all-time series 41-9 and have never lost to the Bears during the Sparks era.