Superb special teams helps Carson-Newman crush Catawba 59-14

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VIDEO: Rondrow Peebles Interview

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – A trio of special teams touchdowns put the icing on the cake of a 59-14 Carson-Newman (4-1, 2-1 South Atlantic Conference) beatdown of Catawba (1-5, 0-3 SAC) Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.

Devon Moore (Baxley, Ga.) and Marcus Williams (Apopka, Fla.) both returned kickoffs for touchdowns while Ryan Randall (Calhoun, Ga.) blocked a punt that Caleb Goins (Bristol, Va.) scooped up in the end zone for a score in order to get the Eagles to a 45-point margin of victory.

The massive margin gives Carson-Newman three straight wins by 35 points or more for the third time in school history.  The 2019 team joins the 2009 and 1994 squads as the only iterations of the football team to do that in its 126-year history. 

"Success today came by what we have done the past three weeks," head coach Mike Turner said. "They accomplished their assignments and were physical.  We talked about how it was time for our special teams to score. They really did that today."

Moore's 93-yard return and Williams' 95-yard return for a score are the first pair of kickoff return touchdowns by two different players in a single game for Carson-Newman in school history. Damon Wright brought back two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Presbyterian in 1990, however, two different players have never accomplished that feat in a single game until now.  Carson-Newman's average of 94 yards per kickoff return is a school record. 

Goins punt block for a score is the first for the Eagles since Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown against Saint Augustine's in 2016. 

"This is absolutely the most complete performance we've had on special teams in my time here as head coach," Turner said. "They exploded and made things happened today. It broke my heart when Nate dropped that punt, but he was a big factor today.  Coach Goss did a great job staying after them, and there was so much production today."

For a third straight week, the Eagles racked up more than 350 yards on the ground while limiting its opponent to less than 275 yards of total offense. Carson-Newman had 12 different ball carriers rush for 368 yards while Catawba was held to 271 yards of offense and 4.6 yards per play. 

Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) led the Eagles ground assault with a career-high 154 yards on eight carries. Evans gashed Catawba with runs of 42, 52 and 55 yards.  His 52-yard run went for a score, the 30th rushing touchdown of his career.  He produced the 113th 150-yard rushing performance in school history.            

Carson-Newman's quarterbacks ran the ball exceptionally well.  Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) ran the ball six times for 31 yards and score, while Micah Young (Spartanburg, S.C.) had 28 yards on five carries with a touchdown.  C-N's QBs accounted for 213 of the Eagles 368 yards.  They are the first trio of C-N signal callers to score in a game since 2008 and a 77-14 win over Concord. That game, Alex Good, Doug Belk and Joel Statham all found the end zone. 

"It's great for those guys to take control, move the offense and go score," Turner said. "We substituted freely and they still went down and scored. When Derrick, Tyler and Micah are in the game, there's no drop off.  My favorite thing though is the way the kids respond to all of them."

Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) added in 90 yards on only eight carries. He moved past Andy Hibbett and into ninth on the all-time rushing list.

The special teams and ground game dominance obfuscated some other miscues. The Eagles were penalized nine times for 112 yards and turned it over three times, leading to Catawba's first score of the day. 

"We obviously have to tighten up some things," Turner said. "Anyone who watched us knows we can't turn the ball over like we did today, and we can't commit the penalties that we did today. To be where we are at this point in the season, there's some great excitement here."

Carson-Newman ground its way to a 21-0 halftime lead behind its vaunted veer-option attack.  After the teams traded turnovers on their opening two possession, Carson-Newman got on track on its second drive of the game. 

Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) and Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) toted 39 and 42 yard rushes to set up the Eagles inside the Indians five.  Two plays later, Demitri Saulsberry (St, Mary's, Ga.) powered into the endzone to cap a speedy four-play, 86-yard possession in 1:55 with a two-yard plunge to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. 

It stood at 7-0 Eagles through one.  On C-N's second possession of the second quarter, the offense kicked back into gear.  A 56-yard screen pass to Romain Kelly (Spartanburg, S.C.) flip field position for the Eagles, then a four-yard trap play guided Wimbush into the end zone for his 32nd career rushing touchdown.  The four-play, 67-yard drive game C-N a 14-0 lead near the mid-point of the quarter.

Evans capped the scoring with an electrifying 52-yard run with 3:10 to play in the half.  His 30th career rushing touchdown put C-N up 21-0. 

"At halftime we talked about how we were going to get the ball and score," Turner said. "We laughed because we said we'd return it for a touchdown and give the ball right back, that's what happened."

Williams took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the house for his second career kickoff return for a score. 

Catawba would push down the field on its ensuing possession with its first sustained drive of the game. However, Clayton Crile's 50-yard field goal went wide to the right. 

Carson-Newman responded with a nine-play 56-yard drive that moved all the way down to the two before a personal foul penalty on the Eagles forced Carson-Newman into a 17-and-goal-to-go situation. Nate Craft (Salem, Va.) would bury the third field goal of his Carson-Newman to set C-N up 31-0. 

Catawba would get on the board thanks to C-N's third turnover of the day with 5:23 left in the third quarter.  Craft saw a punt snap slip through his hands.  Kobe Branch picked up the loose pigskin and brought it back 20 yards for Catawba's first score of the day. 

The Eagles responded with one of those vintage C-N possessions.  Thackerson navigated the Eagles on a 13-play, 75-yard drive before taking it into the end zone from three yards away to give C-N a 38-7 lead 1:21 into  the fourth quarter. 

Catawba went three-and-out for the fifth and final time on its next possession leading to C-N's second special teams score.  A low snap to Crile gave C-N, which was in a safe return, to send Randall shooting off the left edge to block the kick.  Goins picked it up in the end zone to give C-N a 45-7 advantage with 11:41 to play in the fourth quarter.


Carson-Newman's final scoring drive came with 3:26 in the fourth. This time Young propelled the Eagles down the field on an 11-play, 60-yard drive that erased 6:52 off the clock.  Young capped the possession with a stiff arm and a seven-yard option keeper for a score. 

The Indians scored their lone offensive touchdown with 3:10 left in the game. Damonte Good wheeled his way for a 75-yard score to make Catawba's offensive numbers a smidge more respectable.  However, that did set the stage for Moore to show off his 10.12 100-meter dash speed on his 93-yard kickoff return for a score that set the final margin at 59-14. 

Rondrow Peebles (Knoxville, Tenn.) with 10 tackles. He also had a half tackle for loss. 

Carson-Newman hampered Catawba's passing game.  Kendall Davis was 10-for-26 through the air for 87 yards and a pick.  His top target was Kolbe Easley, who snagged six passes for 42 yards. 

Good finished with 124 yards on 17 carries, however, without the 75-yard touchdown run, he only would have had 49 yards and 3.06 yards per carry. 

LJ Melvin led Catawba's defense with eight tackles.

The 59 points the Eagles put up on Catawba are the second most C-N has scored on the Indians in the series history.  Only a 62-34 win in 1994 featured more Eagle points.

C-N has won three straight in the series for the first time since a five-game winning streak from 2008-12. 

Carson-Newman hits the road for the first time in a month with a road trip to Lenoir-Rhyne. Kickoff with the top-10 Bears is set for 2 p.m. Coverage will be available on the Eagle Sports Network starting at 1 p.m. with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at 

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