HICKORY, NC—Except for the second quarter, Saturday wasn’t a good day for Carson-Newman football as Lenoir-Rhyne eliminated the Eagles from the NCAA Division II Playoffs with a 49-21 victory.
The Eagles got off to a disastrous start as the Bears scored four times in the first quarter to grab a 28-0 lead.
However, the Eagles righted themselves in the second quarter and pulled within 28-21 at intermission. But mistakes and penalties were just too much to overcome in the end as the Bears pulled away after the break.
Carson-Newman wound up losing four fumbles. The Eagles also had two punts blocked and gave up a long punt return that set up a short touchdown drive. But the thing that hurt the most was the fact they had four touchdowns called back by penalties.
Carson-Newman was flagged a staggering 15 times for 144 yards while the home team drew three flags for just 20 yards. There were also numerous off-setting calls as the game was heated at times.
Braxton Westfield became the first Eagle in 50 years to catch 10 passes in the game but lost TD grabs of 74 and 77 yards to penalties. Romain Kelly had a 58-yard scoring catch, and Rondrow Peebles returned a fumble 45 yards to score that didn’t count.
On the second TD Westfield had called back, there was never a flag thrown or at least if there was it didn’t land on the field of play.
And an official blew his whistle while Westfield was running down the field.
But when the play was over, the referee announced that C-N had an illegal man down field and the Bears were guilty of pass interference.
But regardless of how it came about, the Eagles’ season is over with a 9-2 worksheet and Lenoir-Rhyne, now 13-0, will be playing for a regional title next week.
The Bears will play host to West Florida which shocked top-ranked and defending champion Valdosta State 38-35 on Saturday.
Sophomore running back Ameen Stevens scored four touchdowns and racked up 128 yards on 20 carries to lead the Bears who finished with 291 yards total offense.
Lenoir-Rhyne had other standouts as quarterback Grayson Willingham tossed a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Drake Starks. Preston Joseph blocked both punts.
Senior Antonio Wimbush totaled 91 yards for C-N and closed his career with 4,003, the fourth most of all time.
The Eagles had 117 on the ground and quarterbacks Derrick Evans and Tyler Thackerson combined for 200 passing yards, completing 17 of 29.
Eagles coach Mike Turner said, “I was proud of the way our kids played. I don’t think there was any lack of effort even after we got behind like we did. They believed on that sideline that we could come back.
“We made mistakes early that spotted them the big lead but we fought back. I loved the fight in our kids in coming back like they did. We never gave up.”
Turner said, “I just told them in the locker room that they can’t let that game define the season they’ve had. We just had a great season and these kids have overcome so much adversity and so many injuries. That’s a tribute to them and to what kind of young men they are.”
L-R’s Drew Cronic said, “What a wild game. We started off hot and then had a bad second quarter. But we settled down and got our composure back and did a good job in the second half.
“That’s a very talented football team we just beat. That receiver, number 15 (Westfield) is unbelievable. He’ll be playing on Sundays one of these days.”
It didn’t take long for things to start going wrong for the Eagles as they took the opening kickoff, lost a yard in three plays and tried to punt.
However, the Bears’ Joseph blocked Nate Craft’s kick and Tre Luttrell picked the ball up and took it 10 yards to the end zone.
Chase Allbaugh tacked on the first of his seven PAT’s and it was 7-0 after just 1:28. C-N had to punt again and this time Craft backed the Bears up to their 11 with a 43-yarder.
But it didn’t make any difference as Lenoir-Rhyne covered the distance in nine plays.
The Bears converted two third downs on the march. Dareke Young had a 21-yard run and Willingham threw to tight end Starks for 22. The points came when Starks got wide open for a 14-yard TD catch. Allbaugh made it 14-0 with 7:49 on the clock.
After the teams exchanged fumbles on consecutive plays, the Eagles punted again and L-R’s Jaquay Mitchell returned the kick 37 yards to the Carson-Newman 24 and a half-the-distance penalty moved the ball to the 12.
Two plays later, Willingham found Starks again for an 11-yard TD as the lead grew to 21-0.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Eagles, they did. Westfield pulled in a 74-yard TD pass but lost it to an offensive interference penalty.
Three plays later, Westfield caught a 40-yarder that counted but the Eagles were immediately called for holding on the next play. Then C-N fumbled again with L-R’s Malik Taylor recovering and returning to the C-N 30.
On the first snap, Steven ran over a couple of Eagles on his way to paydirt. Allbaugh kicked the PAT and it was 28-0 with 1:26 left in the first.
The Eagles righted themselves as they took the kickoff and went 67 yards in 11 plays with Evans scoring on a one-yard sneak. A 33-yard run by Wimbush highlighted the drive.
Peebles then picked up his fumble and scored but a blocking in the back penalty that was flagged about 50 yards away put the ball at the 30.
Four plays later, Westfield made an unbelievable catch as he took the ball out of a defender’s hands for a 16-yard score. Craft closed it to 28-14 with 7:40 left in the half.
Antonio Henderson recovered a fumble to set the Eagles up at the L-R 41. It took seven plays with Thackerson throwing to Westfield for a 12-yard TD just 1:28 before intermission.
But that was all the scoring that counted for the Eagles. Joseph blocked his other punt on the first C-N possession in the third quarter.
He recovered himself at the 18 and three plays later Stevens rambled in from five yards out.
After punting the Eagles’ Demarkus Jones intercepted a tipped pass and returned to the 41. But penalties for personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct made the Eagles start at their 13. After two first downs, Evans fired a pass to Kelly who took it all the way to the end zone but it didn’t count, this time because of holding.
The Eagles didn’t convert on fourth down and L-R started at its 44. They moved to a second-and-nine when three straight offsides penalties moved it all the way to first and goal at the two. Stevens scored on the one with 9:28 left in the game.
Stevens got a meaningless TD later on a 23-yard run after the Bears recovered a dropped punt snap at the 28.