Slow start dooms Eagles in 36-23 loss to No. 8 Bears

VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview

VIDEO: Highlights

VIDEO: Braxton Westfield Interview

VIDEO: Montel Presley Interview

HICKORY, N.C. –  No. 8 Lenoir-Rhyne (7-0, 5-0 South  Atlantic Conference) jumped out to a 16-0 first quarter lead then stiff-armed Carson-Newman (4-2, 2-2 South Atlantic Conference) to a 36-23 win Saturday afternoon at Moretz Stadium. 

The Bears won their 17th consecutive regular season game, their 12th straight South Atlantic Conference game and their 11th straight home game.  C-N dropped its fourth consecutive road game to a ranked team. 

"I did see a great fight out of our football team," head coach Mike Turner said. "We can't make the mistakes that we made against a team the caliber of Lenoir-Rhyne.  Our kids fought and we put ourselves in a position to have a chance.  However, we have to learn to play this game in a way that we get takeaways and don't make penalties that take us out of drives." 

Carson-Newman lost three fumbles, including two deep in their own territory, and had a punt snap dropped that was knocked through the back of the end zone for a safety.

The Eagles limited the Bears, who came in averaging 464 yards of total offense, to 348 yards – a season low.  However, it wasn't enough to overcome a dismal first quarter. 

"I'm proud of our defense, to have two of our top defensive tackles getting therapy to get ready to play next week," Turner said. "We switched Christian Jones and Logan Townsend to the defensive line on Tuesday. I'm proud of how they played and how hard they played.  We got behind and there was no give up from that unit."

Carson-Newman had negative nine yards of total offense 10 minutes into the game. 

Turner praised the Eagles desire to battle back and make things interesting.   

"It goes back to that heart, that character and that fight," Turner said. "We were man-like in our actions.  It would have been easy to lay down in that situation.  We just couldn't quite squeeze that last little bit out.  It would have been much better to go down three at halftime instead of giving up that score."

Carson-Newman started slow and Lenoir-Rhyne jumped out to a 16-0 lead after one. 

The Bears scored on their opening drive after the Eagles went three-and-out.  Jaquay Mitchell tallied a 66 yard run to set up the Bears at the one. Two plays later, Ameen Stevens powered in from a yard out to give the Bears a 7-0 lead 38 seconds in. 

Carson-Newman would go three-and-out its next possession which started at its own five. The Eagles punt snap slipped through Nate Craft's (Salem, Va.) hands and the freshman kicker wisely knocked the ball out the end zone for C-N's first safety since 2012.  That gave L-R a 9-0 lead.

The teams traded turnovers the next two possessions before L-R took over after a C-N fumble at the C-N 35.  Six plays later, Grayson Willingham called his own number for a one-yard TD run to give L-R a 16-0 lead.

A nightmarish first quarter featured 22 yards of total offense for the Eagles and negative nine yards rushing.  Carson-Newman had negative nine yards of total offense through its first two possessions. 

Carson-Newman would counter on its next possession.  Evans guided C-N on a nine-play, 72-yard drive. The quarterback called his own number on a 25-yard option keeper to put C-N on the board with 13:43 left in the second quarter.

Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) picked off Willingham on the ensuing possession for his 15th career pick. 

The Eagles traipsed down the field on a 20-play, 88-yard possession that bled 11:11 from the clock.  Evans forced his way into the end zone on an option keeper around left tackle to pull C-N withi two with 98 seconds left in the half. 

However, the Bears had the two-minute offense working.  Demaris Hampton caught a 28-yard post pattern over the left side of the field to stretch the led back to nine, 23-14 at the halftime break. 

Carson-Newman forced a punt on L-R's opening possession of the second half before the Bears pinned the Eagles at the one with a Michael Owens punt.  

The Eagles moved the ball out from the one with a 22-yard Antonio Wimbush (Kingland, Ga.) run.  Wimbush would rattle off a 37-yard rim to get the Eagles down to the L-R 34 before the drive stalled out.  Nate Craft (Salem, Va.) converted on a career long 49-yard field goal to make it a 23-17 with 5:56 to go in the third. 

Lenoir-Rhyne countered with drive of its own and a field goal to push the lead back to nine with 1:55 to play in the third.  Chase Allbaugh was true for a season-long 43-yard field goal.

The teams traded punts before the Eagles got the ball back with 12:01 left in the fourth.  However, on the second play of  the possession.  Evans bobbled the snap  and Clayton Horn recovered at the C-N seven.  One play later, Stevens powered into the end zone for the 10th time this year to give the Bears a 33-17 edge. 

Carson-Newman would counter with a nine-play, 68-yard possession.  Evans dropped a 25-yard dime to Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) along the right side of the end zone to keep Carson-Newman in miracle territory.  Carson-Newman went for two to try to make it a two-score game, but L-R sniffed out the two-point play to keep it a 33-23 margin. 

Lenoir-Rhyne responded with a 6:15 drive that ended in an Allbaugh 24-yard boot to set the final margin at 36-23. 

Westfield set an option-era record with a nine-catch performance.  He brought in 99 yards worth of receptions.  Westfield's nine catches are the third most in a single game in school history – tied with Tom Jones and Tank Black's performances against Elon (1968) and Lenoir-Rhyne (1978), respectively. 

"They were trying to line up to play the option," Turner said. "They wanted to keep things in front of them and they played soft on the corners at times.  We were able to get the ball with simple throws to Braxton and he made some plays out of it. Romain too."

Evans was an efficient 14-of-21 through the air for 139 yards a score.  His 14 completions are the most by a C-N quarterback against L-R since 1980. 

Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) led Carson-Newman's ground game with 87 yards on 11 carries.  Wimbush's 87 yards and 37-yard rush are both high water marks for what the L-R defense has allowed this year. 

Evans' two rushing touchdowns doubled what the Bears had given up on the ground all year. 

Damarkus Jones led Carson-Newman's defense in tackles for the first time.  The safety had 12 tackles and a tackle for loss. 

Ameen Stevens led L-R on the ground with 79 yards and two scores on 18 carries. 

Willingham was 10-for-14 through the air for 100 yards and a score.  His top target was Deondre Lester. He caught four passes for 35 yards. 

Clayton Horn led L-R's defense with 10 stops.

Carson-Newman returns to Mossy Creek for Homecoming Oct. 26 against Newberry.  Kickoff with the Wolves is set for 3 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 2 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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