VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
VIDEO: Temoris Coats Interview
VIDEO: Mario Mezier Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (6-4, 4-3 South Atlantic Conference) coughed up five fumbles and threw two picks as No. 21 Lenoir-Rhyne (9-1, 6-0 SAC) rattled off 33 unanswered points to roll to a 40-21 win over the Eagles Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The loss was Carson-Newman's third straight to the Bears at Burke-Tarr Stadium. The most recent helped L-R clinch its eighth SAC championship outright and spoil the Eagles' senior day celebrations.
"I don't know how to sum that up except it's awful, disappointing," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "To me it's disappointing to our kids who played better today. I thought our "want to" was better today. I thought our aggressiveness was better today. We just made some mistakes. I told them I hurt for them, and I hurt for them deep down inside."
The Eagles jumped out to a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter before the Bears dominated the rest of the way. Carson-Newman was limited to 61 yards of total offense and 19 yards rushing on 15 attempts after halftime. The Eagles only picked up two first downs after the halftime break largely due to self-inflicted wounds.
C-N fumbled away the first three drives of the second half. Because of the miscues in the third quarter, the Bears ran nearly triple the number of plays the Eagles did that period (29-10).
"It didn't make much sense, our ball security issues, the weather was perfect," Turner said. "I don't see anything, that there was any reason for that. Our kids were fighting their tails of to try to win, to try to get yardage, to try to put us in a scoring position. But we turn the ball over like that. It's hard to win when you have that many fumbles, and you throw a couple picks and add onto it."
Carson-Newman had the lead at halftime after a chaotic first 30 minutes. The Eagles blocked two kicks, had a scoop and score while also turning the ball over three times to the Bears.
Lenoir-Rhyne scored first to take advantage of a Carson-Newman fumble on the fourth possession of the game. The Bears knocked a pitch to the turf and Sherrod Williams recovered it to give the Bears the football at the Eagle 31. Two plays later, Xzavion Huff took an end around 22 yards to the house around right tackle.
Carson-Newman appeared to be on the move to tying the game, but Sherron Jackson coughed up a fumble into the end zone that Lenoir-Rhyne recovered.
Fortunately for the Eagles, Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) made some magic happen on his senior day. The Bears pulled out a double reverse on the second play of their ensuing drive. TJ Smith bobbled the exchange and put the ball on the turf. Coats recovered it at the four and waltz into the end zone with a scoop and score to tie the game.
It was a series of 21 unanswered for the Eagles. L-R quarterback Grayson Willingham lobbed a pick the next possession to Mario Mezier (Miami, Fla.). Eight plays and 57 yards later, Toot Johnson (Rincon, Ga.) pounded the ball into the end zone to give Carson-Newman a 14-7 lead three seconds into the second quarter.
After the teams exchanged three-and-outs, Zach Talley (Duncan, S.C.) blocked a Michael Owen punt. The Eagles took over at the L-R 15. Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) ran a naked QB bootleg 15 yards to the house to send C-N up by two scores.
Lenoir-Rhyne countered the next drive with a Darnell Jackson 15-yard dive to make it a one-score game.
The Bears appeared to be on their way to a tie game, but they had a 16-play possession stall out at the 16. Antonio Henderson (Palmetto, Fla.) blocked a field goal attempt to keep the game at 21-14 heading into the halftime break.
However, that only halted the Bears' march temporarily. Following Evans' QB bootleg touchdown, the Eagles went seven straight possessions of frustrating football. The Eagles turned it over four times and went three-and-out thrice for L-R to rattle off its 33 unanswered points to collect the win. The Bears turned Carson-Newman's seven turnovers into 20 points. Lenoir-Rhyne scored the first four times it touched the football in the second half.
Lenoir-Rhyne took the lead for good with 9:23 to play in the third quarter on a 56-yard touchdown pass to TJ Smith from Grayson Willingham.\
Carson-Newman's five fumbles lost are the second most in school history. The Eagles gave six away to Winston-Salem State in a 27-16 loss in 2001. Carson-Newman entered the game with the 12th fewest turnovers nationally, and the 21st fewest fumbles.
The loss obfuscated solid defensive performances by Coats and Mezier in their final games at Mossy Creek. Coats had 15 tackles, the most in a single game by an Eagle since Jaycob Coleman's 17-tackle effort against Tusculum in 2013. He also logged 1.5 tackles for loss to get to 16 total on the season, the second highest single-season total in school history.
Meanwhile, Mezier tallied a pick and five pass breakups. The six passes defensed and the five pass breakups both register as the second highest single-game totals in school history. Deonte Bolden holds both school records for that category.
Lenoir-Rhyne outgained Carson-Newman 421-224. The Eagles were limited to 113 yards rushing, a low dating back to a Homecoming loss to North Greenville last year.
Sherron Jackson (Miami, Fla.) led Carson-Newman on the ground with 52 yards rushing on eight carries. Antonio Wimbush's (Kingsland, Ga.) 100-yard rushing streak game to an end at four games. He had 33 yards on nine carries.
The Bears had 11 different ball carriers to get to 206 yards rushing. Darnell Jackson had 70 yards rushing on eight carries to go with two scores.
Grayson Willingham completed 13-of-27 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. TJ Smith was his favorite target. The wideout snagged five catches for 109 yards.
Carson-Newman wraps up the regular season Nov. 10 at UNC Pembroke. Kickoff against the Braves is set for 1 p.m. Coverage will be available on the Eagle Sports Network at cneagles.com/live.