HICKORY, NC — Eighth-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne took advantage of Carson-Newman mistakes Saturday, scoring two touchdowns after getting fumbles and a safety, on its way to a 36-23 victory in a battle of South Atlantic Conference heavyweights.
The home team jumped out to a 16-0 lead before the Eagles got their initial first down and each time Carson-Newman battled back, the Bears had an answer.
It was the seventh win without a loss for the Bears who stretched their conference winning streak to a dozen games. They have now won 17 consecutive regular season games and 11 straight at Moretz Stadium.
It was the second loss of the season for the Eagles who have won four. Carson-Newman is now 2-2 in league play.
A bright spot in the loss was that Carson-Newman’s Braxton Westfield. Westfield set a modern-day receiving record in the game as he caught nine passes for 99 yards and a TD. That’s the most catches by an Eagle in almost 40 years, dating back to November 15, 1969 when Mike Souder caught 11 against Presbyterian.
Neither team was able to reach their lofty rushing averages of over 300 yards, but the Bears wound up with 246 on 47 tries while holding the Eagles to 158 on 44 attempts.
Eagle quarterback Derrick Evans was 14-of-21 for 139 while the Bears completed 10-of-14 for 100 yards.
Ameen Stevens led the L-R attack with 18 carries for 79 yards. Jaquay Mitchell added 67 yards on four tries but he got 65 of that on the first play for the Bears.
Antonio Wimbush paced the Eagles with 87 on 11 tries while Evans had 44 on 18 carries.
Carson-Newman coach Mike Turner said, “I saw great fight in this team today after getting down like we did. But you just can’t make those kind of mistakes and beat a good football team.
“We got back in it right before the half but then we gave up a touchdown that really killed us.”
Turner said, “You need to have take-aways instead of give of give-aways. And we can’t make penalties that put them in situations to keep drives alive or to take us out of a drive. That happened a lot today.
“We’ve still got a lot of football left, and we still have goals that we can obtain. What we need to do is line up and play football and maybe have a chance to plays people again.”
The Bears couldn’t have gotten a better start. They stopped Carson-Newman cold on the first possession and then exploded to a touchdown in three plays.
On the first play, Mitchell took a pitch around the left side, got a great block to break free and then reversed his field across the defensive pursuit and took it 64 yards to the Eagles’ two.
It took Stevens two carries to score from the one. Chase Albaugh kicked the PAT with 13:08 left in the quarter and then kicked off onsides and recovered himself at the LR 47.
The Eagles’ defense forced a punt that was fair caught by Desmond Fairell at the five. Carson-Newman couldn’t get anything and Nate Craft fumbled the punt snap and batted it out of the endzone for a safety that made it 9-0.
Lenoir-Rhyne got two first downs after the free kick, but Darius Williams intercepted a pass when Willingham was hit as he threw.
But then Evans fumbled as he was sacked and the Bears’ Dan Louba recovered at the C-N 35. Willingham scored from the one on the sixth play. That came on a break for the Bears as the quarterback turned to hand the ball off but there was no back there, so he dove into the endzone.
Albaugh hit the point after and it was 16-0, and the Eagles didn’t even have a first down with 3:59 left in the quarter.
However, Carson-Newman came to life offensively, going 72 yards in nine plays after the kickoff. Evans hit Westfield for passes of 12, 13 and eight yards and got the touchdown himself as he ran the option left, cut up the middle and scooted 25 yards on the third play of the second period.
On the third play following the kickoff, the Bears tried to throw deep and Fairell came up with the 15th pick of his career. A penalty on the return forced the Eagles to start at their 12.
C-N used up 20 plays and took 11:09 off the clock in covering the 88 yards. It looked like a three-and-out but a personal foul penalty for jumping over the wedge on the punt gave the Eagles new life and they responded.
Wakefield caught two more passes and Trevor Makarov two in the drive and Evans scored from the three. Craft made it 16-14 with only 1:29 left in the half.
That was 27 seconds more than the Bears needed to score. After two plays gained 19 yards, Demarius Hampton ran 22 yards on a reverse and on the next snap he gathered in a perfect pass from Willingham for a 26-yard TD. Albaugh made it 23-14 at the half.
The home team got a pair of first downs before having to kick and Michael Owen’s punt was downed at the Eagles’ one.
Wimbush ripped off runs of 22 and 37 and Craft booted a 49-yard field goal to get the Eagles within 23-17.
Lenoir-Rhyne came right back to go from its 32 to the Eagles’ 26 and Albaugh hit a 43-yard three-pointer to restore the nine-point margin with 1:55 left in the third.
C-N went three-and-out but the defense got a stop and Owen knocked a 49-yard punt out of bounds at the Eagles’ 7.
On the third play, Evans fumbled the snap and Amari Houston got the prize at the seven and Stevens scored on the next play to pretty much wrap it up with 11:23 left although both teams scored again.
The Eagles took the kickoff and moved 68 yards in 9 plays with most of it coming in the air. Westfield caught 8, 13 and closed it out with a 25-yard TD grab in the back corner of the endzone. Romain Kelly had a 12-yard grab in the march.