JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (4-1, 2-1 South Atlantic Conference) and No.8/9 Lenoir-Rhyne (6-0, 4-0 SAC) bring two of the nation’s best offenses and defenses to the party Saturday when the two sides match wits Saturday at 2 p.m. from inside Moretz Stadium.
The Eagles bring the country’s fourth best rushing offense (330 yds/game) and fifth best pass defense (124 yds/game) and sixth best total defense (244 yds/game) into the contest. Meanwhile, Lenoir-Rhyne boasts of the nation’s fifth best rushing attack (304 yds/game), third best rush defense (51 yds/game) and seventh best total defense (246 yds/game).
However, Lenoir-Rhyne has been absurdly dominant, especially at home, since Drew Cronic took over as head coach two years ago.
Lenoir-Rhyne rides a 10-game home winning streak into the contest - the second longest winning streak in the country. The Bears last home loss was to Carson-Newman on Nov. 4, 2017. L-R head coach Drew Cronic has never at home. In fact, since Cronic took over, the Bears have only played one game that hasn’t been decided by more than one possession, a 21-17 win at the horn in last year’s NCAA regional semifinals to Wingate, 21-17.
Furthermore, the Bears have won 16 straight regular season games dating to a 36-32 loss at West Alabama in last season’s opener. The SAC winning streak is at 12 straight wins for L-R (Carson-Newman also represent the Bears last league loss). However, Cronic has never been defeated by a league foe.
“They’re playing at a phenomenal pace,” Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. “They’re being very productive on offense and they’re being very productive on defense as well. On offense, they’re running the football like they always do and picking their place and when they throw the football it’s usually for big chunks and big plays. So, you’ve got to be assignment football, keep your eyes up all the time, be who you’re supposed to be when the ball is snapped. You can’t get out of place against Lenoir-Rhyne.”
Both teams ride uncommon surges over the last three games, but against competition that has struggled. C-N has won its last three games by an average margin of victory of 45 points. However, UVa-Wise, UNC Pembroke and Catawba are a combined 5-13. Meanwhile, the Bears have won their last three contests by 36.3 points per game. Mars Hill, UVa-Wise and Tusculum’s combined record is an identical 5-13.
“There’s not a whole lot of teams this time of the year that are having a game of this magnitude,” Turner said. “Told our kids, gosh, what it is basically it’s the next most important game on our schedule, because it’s the next game. It’ll be a great atmosphere over there, I know that. I know that they’ll be ready to play, I think our kids are going to be ready to play and should be a fantastic football game.”
This is Carson-Newman’s first regular season road matchup with a top 10 team since losing to West Florida 19-9 last year. All told, it’s just Carson-Newman’s fifth regular season road matchup with a top 10 team as a member of NCAA Division II. The Eagles are 1-3 in such meetings. C-N’s lone win came in 2002 at then No. 9 Catawba 34-9 (C-N was ranked third for that meeting). The losses are at No. 2 West Florida (2018, 19-9), No. 3 North Alabama (2009, 31-14) and No. 3 Catawba (2000, 13-10). The Eagles are 9-16 all-time against the top 10 since moving to Division II.
C-N will also be looking to snap a three-game road losing streak to ranked opposition dropping games to No. 19 Wingate earlier this year, No. 2 West Florida last year and No. 17 Valdosta State in the 2015 NCAA playoffs.
L-R’s defense has been spectacular against the run. The Bears haven’t allowed more than 100 yards rushing in a game on the season, and kept Tusculum and Saint Augustine’s to negative yards rushing. Furthermore, only Mars Hill and Virginia Union have found the end zone on the ground against L-R. The Bears have allowed a whopping two rushing TDs on the year.
No individual player has rushed for more yards on L-R than Mars Hill’s Christopher Roberts and his 53 yards. Furthermore, the Bears still haven’t allowed a rush of more than 20 yards on the year. Mars Hill quarterback Collin Sneed tallied an 18-yard rush against the Bears for the longest gain on the ground the Bears have given up.
“They’re doing the same scheme, basically. I think you’ve got kids that are a year older, that’s shown, they’ve got eight starters back and one backup – really that’s nine starters – back that are experienced,” Turner said. “I think when you’ve got some certain people around the like we’ve talked about, people that make other people better, I think that makes you a great defense. They have those people in players like Kyle Dugger, Dan Louba and Jaquan Artis.”
Carson-Newman has been giving teams fits offensively and defensive on third down. The Eagles rank in the top 10 nationally in both third down offense and defense. Heading into the Lenoir-Rhyne game, opponents have converted just two of their last 22 third down attempts. Conversely, C-N has converted on 15 of its last 19 third downs.
L-R too has been exceptional third down. Opponents are five of their last 30 on third down against the Bears.
Antonio Wimbush joined Carson-Newman’s 3,000-yard club against Wingate and now has 3,246 yards in his career. He is 8th all-time in rushing yards. He needs 55 more yards to bypass Buck Wakefield (3,291) for seventh.
Wimbush’s next 100-yard performance would give him 15 for his career, putting him even with Tyrone Westmoreland for fourth most all-time. A two-touchdown day would draw Wimbush level with Leonard Guyton and Heath Hawkins for 11th on the career rushing touchdown chart with 34 career scores.
Desmond Fairell’s next interception will be his 15th in his career. It will move him into a tie for fourth on the all-time list with Clayton Holmes.
“Dez has grown tremendously,” Turner said. “We’ve talked about that before, as a young man, definitely grown as a football player. He is a guy that you expect to make plays. He’s a guy that can lead out there and get people in the right position so we’ve got a lot of trust in Dez Fairell.”
Kickoff between the Eagles and Bears is set for 2 p.m. Saturday from Moretz Stadium