Defense causes chaos, C-N takes complete 48-21 win at Mars Hill

VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview

VIDEO: Highlights

VIDEO: Antonio Wimbush Interview

VIDEO: Jordan Seal Interview

VIDEO: Ray Artybridge Interview

VIDEO: Desmond Fairell Interview

MARS HILL, N.C. – Carson-Newman (6-2, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) produced four turnovers and ground out 388 yards rushing in a 48-21 win Saturday afternoon at Meares Stadium over Mars Hill (5-4, 4-2 SAC) Saturday afternoon to maintain control of its playoff destiny.

The Eagles notch a resume-building road win over a team with a .500 record or better with the triumph against the Lions. 

"We came in and played together, fed off of each other, support one another and it resulted in a team football win today," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "We got the ball in the end zone enough to make a difference."

The win is the Eagles' eighth straight in the series against the Lions, but their first in that stretchg in which they held Mars Hill under 400 yards of total offense.  The Lions got a prodigious 15-catch, 199-yard performance from All-American Craig Rucker, plus three scores.  However, Mars Hill was limited to 84 yards rushing and even though MHU passed for 314 yards, it came on 25-of-51 attempts from quarterback Jimmy Urzua, who also lobbed three picks. 

"Craig Rucker got his, what a phenomenal player he is," Turner said. "I'll be sending a card on behalf of Carson-Newman when he graduates to congratulate him.  Our kids hung in there and made plays when they needed to.  I'm so proud of their effort and what they were able to do.  The heart of the defense and their ability to battle is wonderful."

Rucker finishes his career against Carson-Newman with 38 career catches for 590 yards and six receiving scores.

Desmond Fairell sealed off his 18th career pick to move into a tie for third all-time at Carson-Newman with Al Canty and Deonte Bolden.  He also forced a fumble that Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) recovered.  Meanwhile, Damarkus Jones (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) and Ray Artybridge (Iva, S.C.) each grabbed their third picks of the year.  The game is the third straight for C-N with multiple picks, and the third this year overall with at least three interceptions. 

"You're hoping for everything to be a knock down or a pick.  I'm so proud of Dez and Ray," Turner said. "They got put in a hole with some penalties and they still made things happen.  They came out and got business done."

Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) led Carson-Newman's ground game with 143 yards on a season-high 19 carries.  The performance impacts the record book for the Eagles. The day moves Wimbush past Hugh Rutledge and Brandon Baker and into third place on the all-time rushing yards list with 3,532 career yards.  The 100-yard day was the 15th for his career, putting him on level footing with Antwon Oliver for the fourth most in school history.

Wimbush also tallied his fifth career day with three rushing touchdowns.  The trio of scores moves him up from 12th to eighth on the career rushing touchdowns list and gives him 36 for his career, putting him level with Baker and Oliver.

"Wimbo is nicked and banged up," Turner said. "You know that the more he runs the football and gets positive yardage, he gets that gleam in his eye that says keep it coming.  There wasn't a play today where he didn't hit the hole hard."

However, it was far from Wimbush who got the job done on the ground.  Troy Dendy (Laurens, S.C.) had 110 yards on 12 carries.  Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) found the end zone twice to move into a tie for 12th on the all-time rushing touchdowns list with Heath Hawkins and Leonard Guyton.  He had 13 carries for 64 yards. 

Carson-Newman grounded and pounded Mars Hill from the outset.  The Eagles scored on four of their first five possessions. 

Nate Craft (Salem, Va.) got the party started by punctuating the opening possession with a 50-yard field goal.  The lengthy boot is the first 50-yard kick by a Carson-Newman kicker since Curt Duncan put through a school-record 54-yard shot against Tusculum in 2012.  That was 2,555 days ago. 

"Offense lifted defense, defense lifted special teams, special teams lifted offense," Turner said. "All parts complemented one another.  Nate's 50-yard field goal really helped lift us up after we struggled on the first couple plays of the game."

With C-N up 3-0 with 10:19 to play in the first quarter, Carson-Newman's defense  went to work  The Eagles forced a three-and-out, and after a MHU punt, C-N got the ball back at its own 12. 

C-N pulverized the ball down the field on a 13-play, 88-yard drive that to give C-N a 10-0 lead with 3:33 to play in the first quarter.  Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) pushed into the end zone from a yard out for his 33rd career rushing touchdown. 

The Eagles and Lion exchanged a three-and-out and a pick before Mars Hill got on track.  The Lions put together a 10-play, 89-yard drive that milked 2:39 from the clock. Craig Rucker took a 15-yard screen pass along the left sideline for a score to pull MHU within a field goal with 13:14 to play in the second.

Carson-Newman responded immediately.  C-N put together a six-play, 38-yard drive.  Craft booted through his second field goal of the half from 42 yards away to stretch the lead to 13-7 with 10:26 to play in the second quarter. 

After forcing a MHU punt after four plays, Carson-Newman's offense got back to work.  Sherron Jackson (Miami, Fla.) capped the drive with his third career rushing touchdown against the Lions. Jackson surged in from a yard out off right guard to finish the 10-play, 71-yard drive to set the halftime margin at 20-7. 

Damarkus Jones (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) picked off Jimmy Urzua on the Lions ensuing possession with 39 seconds left on a tunnel screen to preserve the two-score lead at the break and prevent the Lions from going two-for-one. 

The Eagles picked up right where they left off in the third quarter.  For the fourth time this year, Carson-Newman put up 21 in a frame.  The Eagles got it done with a pair of one-yard runs from Wimbush and a one-yard sneak from Evans to be up 41-14 entering the final 15 minutes. 

Mars Hill scored on its second possession of the half when the Lions converted on a 4th-and-10 with a 33-yard TD pass to Rucker from Urzua. 

Wimbush capped the scoring in the fourth with his third one-yard touchdown run of the day before Rucker countered with a seven-yard catch to set the final margin at 48-21 C-N.    

Williams led Carson-Newman with nine tackles, a stop behind the line of scrimmage and a fumble recovery.

Jaden  King, Landon Honeycutt and Boris Lewis all had double-digit tackles for Mars Hill. 

Carson-Newman hits the road Saturday  for a matchup at Limestone.  Kickoff with the Saints is at 1 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM) and online at 

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