Dominant second half propels Eagles to season finale triumph

VIDEO: Game Highlights

VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview

VIDEO: Derrick Evans Interview

VIDEO: Antonio Henderson Interview

VIDEO: Mario Mezier Interview

VIDEO: Antonio Wimbush Interview

PEMBROKE, N.C. – Leading 14-10 at halftime, Carson-Newman hit its stride forcing four three-and-outs and scoring a defensive touchdown in a 34-13 victory over UNC Pembroke Saturday afternoon at Grace P. Johnson Stadium.

"Our message today and all week long was to finish strong," Carson-Newman coach Mike Turner said. "That's something we haven't done at times this season. We wanted to make sure we finished strong for those kids that are seniors. That was important. We wanted to finish strong for these guys in our heart. When the odds aren't for you and the circumstances aren't exactly perfect, that's the growing part. We wanted them to play today and honor the God that created them and have a good time. I think we did that."

Turner's crew outgained the Braves 268-64 in the second half and 179-8 over the final 15 minutes as Carson-Newman (7-4) finished with 492 yards of total offense and 438 on the ground.

"It was important that our defense held them and we were able to score on our first series," Turner said. "We drew first blood. I think that's critical anytime you play a football game. In the first half, it was a bit of a struggle, but I don't think it was out of control by any means. I think the kids settled down at halftime. The defense made some turnovers and threes and outs and got us the football in good position."

UNC Pembroke (2-7) has lost seven in-a-row to South Atlantic Conference programs dating back to a win over Lenoir-Rhyne in 2017.

The Eagles avoid losing three straight to end a season for the first time since 1978 while finishing .500 in true road affairs on the year.

Turnover issues from last week leaked into the start of Saturday's affair as Marcus Williams (Apopka, Fla.) fumbled on the opening kickoff. The Eagles defense held strong forcing a three-and-out and a missed 44-yard field goal from Shawn Andrew.

Taking over at its own 27, C-N charged down the field using 12 plays to take score the game's first points of the day. Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) converted a third-and-seven with a 14-yard rush diving across the left pylon to make it 7-0 with 8:30 to go in the first quarter.

It did not take the Braves long to equalize. Josh Jones found Shammond Hicks for a 59-yard completion setting up the home group at the 14. After two scrambles from Jones, Quadrin Williams scampered into the endzone from three yards out to tie it up at seven less than two minutes after C-N took the lead.

After the Eagles punted, the Braves charged down the field using 12 plays. After a fourth-down conversion, Eric Price fumbled and Jatavius Ponder picked up the football at the 25-yard line to give the ball back to Turner's bunch.

On the next play, Demetri Saulsberry (Saint Mary's, Ga.) took the dive right side and sprinted untouched 75 yards along the right sideline to the house to make it 14-7 with 13:54 to go in the half.

Alex Alvardo added a 25-yard field goal with 1:44 to go in the first half to cut the margin to four points as the two clubs went into the locker room.

Three straight punts opened the second half as C-N received good field position at the UNCP 47-yard-line. The Eagles needed just five plays to punch it in as Sherron Jackson (Miami, Fla.) hustled in from four yards out to make it 20-10 with 7:22 to go in the game.

After Alvardo added a 32-yard field goal with 3:39 to go in the third, the Eagles put the finishing touches on the offensive effort with a 28-yard burst up the middle by Marcus Williams to make it 27-13 with 5:37 to go.

The exclamation point was put on the win as Mario Mezier (Miami, Fla.) intercepted a ball at the 43-yard line and hustled with a cavalry in front of him across the goal line for a pick-six to make it 34-13 with 4:46 to go in the affair for the win.

"I give thanks to the defense and glory to God," Mezier said. "I appreciate coach [Larry] Slade. We had a cover two call and it was high-to-low route. The defense forced the quarterback to throw it right in my area. I was able to pick it. [Temoris Coats] did a good job blocking and I was able to score a touchdown."

Wimbush finished with his 13th career 100-yard rushing effort toting the ball 20 times for 114 yards and a score. The junior finished the season with 1,206 yards, good for 18th in a single season in school history.

"The linemen did a great job," Wimbush said. "Coach kept feeding me. I'm blessed. It comes with discpline and executing the way that we run."

Marcus Williams had 11 yards on just five carries as Jackson and Saulsberry each had 86 yards and a rushing score.

Antonio Henderson (Palmetto, Fla.) led the Eagles with six tackles, three for loss in the game.

Temoris Coats (Greenwood, S.C.) tallied one tackle for loss to tie the program record for TFL's in a season with his 17th matching Eric Rice's mark from 2006.

"That was part of finishing strong." Turner said. "It was for our seniors, but it was also for the kids that were coming back. It was an evaluation for them. They're going to be kids you can count on. They're going to be teammates you can go on and win a championship. That's the heritage and the background, that's the program at Carson-Newman. A 7-4 season is a good, solid season, but it's not in the terms of what we expect at Carson-Newman. We want to do better."

For Pembroke, Octavis McLaurin and Domenique Davis each had nine tackles to lead the Braves. On offense, Josh Jones completed 11 of 32 for 120 yards and a pick. McKinley Nelson and Williams each registered 47 yards rushing.

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Game Day Central 9-22-18
September 22, 2018 Game Day Central 9-22-18