JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Sophomore running back Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and junior running back Nate Inman added 156 yards and a score to lead the Carson-Newman football team to a 34-27 victory over Mars Hill on Thursday night in a key South Atlantic Conference matchup at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The victory moves the Eagles (5-3) into a tie atop the SAC standings with Mars Hill (5-3) at 3-1, while Catawba, Wingate and Newberry are set to play this weekend with 2-1 conference records.
Baker, who had touchdown runs of 12 and 22 yards, averaged 12.5 yards per carry. Inman added a score from 17 yards out and rushed for 8.2 yards per touch. Freshman running back Tyron Douglas (Cover, S.C.), who rushed for 41 yards on four carries, converted a third and four at the C-N 15 with less than a minute left to seal the win.
“I thought they did a great job running the ball, and we had some good blocking down the field,” C-N head coach Ken Sparks said. “We have played the last two games pretty well and we need to keep it up. This was a big win.”
The contest was an offensive showdown with Mars Hill outgaining Carson-Newman 484-466 in total offense. The Lions had 218 yards on the ground and added 266 yards passing, while the Eagles piled up 391 yards on the ground and 75 yards through the air.
C-N senior quarterback Doug Belk (Valdosta, Ga.) completed 6-of-6 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns and added 33 yards on the ground.
Junior tight end Keith Hardy (Washington, D.C.) and junior receiver Marcus Huie (Knoxville, Tenn.) caught touchdown receptions of 37 and 15 yards, respectively, for C-N.
Mars Hill junior running back Jonas Randolph (Daleville, Ala.) had a stellar effort in the loss, rushing for 191 yards and a score on 30 carries.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to where (Randolph) is going. He has so much ability to go wherever he wants to go,” Sparks noted. “He’s a good football player.”
Lions sophomore signal caller Jon Richt (Watkinsville, Ga.) connected on 15-of-28 pass attempts for 266 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted four times by the C-N defense, giving the Eagles eight interceptions in the last two contests.
Frankie Waters (Brevard, N.C.) led Mars Hill in receiving with three receptions for 99 yards, while P.J. Gore (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) contributed 58 yards and a score on four receptions.
Despite giving up more than 400 yards, the Eagle defense made big plays when it mattered most. Three of C-N’s four interceptions stopped Mars Hill drives in Eagle territory, including an interception by sophomore Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.) at the C-N 3 that ended Mars Hill’s chances with 2:33 left in the contest.
“We certainly needed all four of them. That’s for sure,” Sparks stated. “We are grateful we came up with those turnovers. (Kinley’s interception) was breathtaking. That was a big play. No question.”
Sophomore defensive back Tarvin Jones (St. Petersburg, Fla.) led the way for the Eagles with four tackles and two interceptions returned for 42 yards. Jones has collected four picks in the last two games. Senior Dontaye Hall (Gallatin, Tenn.) recorded eight tackles and an interception, while freshman Jaycob Coleman (Norton, Va.) also had eight stops.
Marzarius Samon (Jacksonville, Fla.) led Mars Hill with a game-high 16 tackles and one sack.
The Eagles wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard as they took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in six plays, capped off by a 37 yard touchdown pass from Belk to Hardy to give C-N a 7-0. With the score, the Eagles surpassed the 12,000-point plateau during the Sparks era, giving them 12,004 points.
After struggling through the first quarter, the Mars Hill offense came alive in the second stanza and put together a 15-play, 95-yard scoring drive with Randolph finding the end zone finding the end zone from a yard out. The Lions missed the extra point to make it a 7-6 ballgame.
C-N answered on the ensuing possession, as Baker, who had three carries for 75 yards on the drive with a long of 58, broke free for a 12-yard score to give C-N a 14-6 advantage heading into the locker room.
The Lions pulled to within 14-13 to open the second half. A quarterback keeper by Richt from a yard out capped off a nine-play, 69-yard drive.
Belk came through with his second touchdown pass of the night, a 15-yard scoring strike to Huie, on the next possession to put the Eagles back in front by eight at 21-13 with 9:06 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles then added to their lead on their next possession with a nine-play, 70-yard drive, as Baker busted loose up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown. C-N held a 27-13 lead after missing the extra point.
But Mars Hill refused to go down. Richt connected with Waters for a 74-yard touchdown pass just three plays later to pull the Lions to within 27-20 at the end of the third quarter.
Jones’ second interception of the night early in the fourth quarter set up C-N’s final scoring drive that was capped by a 17-yard touchdown run by Inman. Matthew Gossett (White House, Tenn.) tacked on the extra point to give the Eagles a 34-20 cushion.
Richt found Gore for a 12-yard scoring strike at the 9:02 mark of the fourth quarter to trim C-N’s lead to 34-27, but Kinley picked off a Richt pass on Mars Hill’s next possession at the C-N 3 that allowed the Eagles to run out the clock.
C-N returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 30 in a SAC matchup at Newberry. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.