Jefferson City, Tenn. (Carson-Newman) Carson-Newman's 35th-year head football coach Ken Sparks needs one victory to match legendary coach Pop Warner for sixth on the all-time college football wins list as the Eagles crank open their 2014 campaign against the Edinboro Fighting Scots.
"As far as I can tell, tying Pop Warner wouldn't mean anything to me," Sparks said. "Now if that opens the door to draw attention to the God that does miraculous things with nothing, then I say, 'To Him be the Glory.'
"I do think it does mean something to all the players and coaches who have deeply invested in this program over the years. But I'd be pretty foolish if I thought this was something to crow about. If there is any praise to be attained, it needs to go to the Lord."
In 1998, the last year the teams met, the Eagles fell behind 41-17 at the half before rallying for a 45-44 victory in what Ken Sparks calls one of Carson-Newman's greatest come-from-behind wins.
Not a lot has changed for Sparks' Eagles since '98. C-N still runs the veer; however, the Fighting Scots now run a spread offense under ninth-year head coach Scott Browning with the assistance of former Arizona Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Miller.
That's why Sparks knows career win 319 isn't a gimmie.
"They were two different teams last year after their quarterback went down with an injury," Sparks said. "They base a lot of what they do around him. But even with a .500 year last year, they were still highy competitive in the PSAC. They are in great position to play us because we are so youthful defensively."
Edinboro comes off a 5-6 record in 2013 and a sixth-place finish in the PSAC West Division. The Fighting Scots have had back-to-back losing seasons after nine straight winning seasons, including a trip to the Final Four in 2009.
For the Scots to regain success, Browning will look to quarterback Cody Harris. Harris returns from injury after getting hurt in week two in 2013. Before his injury, Harris tossed for 333 yards per game, completing 77.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns against two interceptions. He had a cool 176.4 quarterback efficiency rating. He was also the Fighting Scots' leading rusher after two weeks last year.
He made the Fighting Scots highly competitive against nationally-ranked Bloomsburg in a 47-35 home loss. Harris then helped the 'Boro hang on for a 35-34 win over Walsh.
Several favorite targets return for the Scots, including Darren Massey and Ben Eisel. Eisel and Massey were two of five receivers a year ago who each had more than 100 yards receiving and at least 13 receptions. Eisel led the charge with 45 receptions and 528 yards, but only had one touchdown to show for it. It was Massey who was Edinboro's top scoring threat with his four receiving touchdowns and 339 yards. Massey only played in seven games, but still was able to garner the PSAC West's Freshman of the Year honor.
The Fighting Scots do lose Marcus Johnson and Jordan Wilson at wideout – Edinboro's second and fourth leading receivers from a year ago. The Fighting Scots must also replace their top two rushers, Jeremy Donaldson and D'Andrea Vaughn. However, the return of four starters up front should ease any issues there.
Defensively, the Fighting Scots were serviceable, but not superb a year ago.
Edinboro gave up 28.2 points per game and 392 yards per contest. Truly, the Scots issue last year was not scoring enough points, or moving the ball consistently enough. They only scored 22.4 points per game and produced a smidge over 314.7 yards per game – which ranked in the bottom 20 a year ago.
Defensively, the Fighting Scots were most effective against passing teams. Their pass efficiency defense was 30th in the nation a year ago but only Veuntrae Robinson returns in a secondary that features seven freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep.
Robinson had 55 tackles – fifth on the team a year ago. Second leading tackler and linebacker Mike Shansky as well as his 87 tackles and 11 tackles for loss also return. He earned All-PSAC West honors last year.
The defensive line is bolstered by the return of Domenic Principale who had 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks a year ago.
Special teams could be an adventure for Edinboro. No specialists return from a unit that had six kicks blocked a year ago.
Kickoff between the Fighting Scots and Eagles is set for 7 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins at 6 p.m. with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Tailgate Show on flagship Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), 106.3 ESPN Radio The Zone (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live with a free high definition stream.
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