JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - No. 24 Carson-Newman (8-2, 5-2 SAC) pulled out its second highest rushing tally of the season, piling up 488 yards on the ground against the number one defense in the South Atlantic Conference in Mars Hill (6-4, 5-2 SAC) en route to a 35-17 senior day win Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman should secure a spot in the Division II playoffs with the win. The Eagles miss out on the SAC crown because Lenoir-Rhyne defeated Catawba Saturday 44-14 to win the title outright with a 6-1 conference record – the Bears lone defeat came at the hands of the Eagles.
The Eagles 488 yards rushing were the most any team had put up on Mars Hill all season by 142 yards – Western Carolina was the next closest with a 342 yard day in the opener.
“Give coach Turner and Clowney a lot of credit with the offensive and defensive game plans,” Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks said. “We’ve gotten a lot better out here (on the football field), but we’ve also gotten a lot better in here (in our hearts). We’re very blessed to be experiencing that.”
Carson-Newman cashed in on the ground by committee. Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) led the way with 190 yards on 22 carries. The junior became the 21st Eagle all time to crest 1,000 yards for his career. Baker has 1,168 yards this year. Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.), Andy Hibbett (Corryton, Tenn.) and Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) followed suit with 153, 75 and 74 yards respectively.
“The offensive line did a tremendous job, the running backs were running hard,” Sparks said. “We had it in space a couple times, but just didn’t have enough speed to take it to the house. We’ve got a pretty doggone good offensive line.”
The Eagles got the day started with a Douglas five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead off a 10-play, 52-yard drive.
Mars Hill and Carson-Newman traded scores back and forth with the Eagles getting a couple more Douglas touchdown runs, providing the bread around the meat of a Jarrett East-Brown (Burlington, N.J.) blocked punt.
The Eagles held a 21-17 lead at the break after the Lions racked up 291 yards of first half offense, but Carson-Newman dialed up the defensive pressure in the second half to hold the Lions to 118 yards of total offense and zero points.
“We played with a bit more substance about us in the second half,” Sparks said. “We made some mistakes and were playing with more of an individual deal than a team deal, but that changed in the second half.”
Jon Richt passed 305 yards on the Eagle defense, but was 19-42 with a pass intercepted by Issac Kinley (Johnson City, Tenn.) Richt had a receiving corps that saw Dimitri Holmes and Deunta Jennings both grab 115 yards worth of receptions. However, Holmes and Jennings also combined for 10 dropped passes on the day.
Jon Sites (Hendersonville, Tenn.) led C-N with 10 tackles, while Zack Fleming bolted Richt down in the backfield for the fifth sack on the Mars Hill QB all year.
“We finally started getting a little pressure on Richt (in the second half), it helped that their receivers dropped a bunch of passes,” Sparks said. “Their dropped passes and our penalties kept this game really interesting.”
The Eagles were charged with 16 penalties for 117 yards.
Carson-Newman awaits its playoff fate. The Eagles find out where they stand during the NCAA Selection Show at 5 p.m. Sunday. Fans can view the show at the following link.
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