WINGATE, N.C. --- The Wingate University defense forced five turnovers and blocked a punt resulting in a safety as the Bulldogs shut out visiting Tusculum College 19-0 Saturday afternoon in South Atlantic Conference football action at Irwin Belk Stadium. The two teams played in quagmire-like conditions with heavy rain and winds over 30 miles per hour due to the remnants of Hurricane Matthew.
Wingate's Blake Hayes rushed for career-high 136 yards on 28 carries, while quarterback Kyle Johnson and running back Lawrence Pittman each rushed for a score, accounting for the only touchdowns of the contest.
The Pioneers (1-5, 1-3 SAC) couldn't get anything going offensively as the Black and Orange fumbled the football six times, while losing possession on three of those occasions. Quarterback Malcolm Pendergrass was intercepted twice and sacked three times as the Pioneers were held to just 63 yards on the day, marking the first time TC was held under 100 yards since Sep. 3, 2005 against the University of North Alabama (89 yards).
It was also the first time Tusculum had been shutout since Oct. 15, 2005 in a 38-0 loss to Carson-Newman, snapping a span of 119 consecutive games without being shutout.
Wingate (5-1, 2-1 SAC) had 14 first downs in the game, while Tusculum recorded only four, converting its initial first down at the 8:15 mark of the third quarter on Tony Belle's 17-yard run.
Pittman scored his NCAA Division II leading 15th touchdown run of the season on a three-yard scamper at the 1:48 mark of the opening quarter. Caleb Baird's kick made it 7-0 Bulldogs.
The two teams exchanged fumbles on their next possession. Pendergrass was stripped of the football by Shalon Moore and picked up by Josh Mills and returned eight yards to the TC 23-yard line. But two plays later Pittman was hit by Deres Benn, causing the fumble which was recovered and returned six yards by Jay Boyd to the TC 25.
After a TC punt, the Bulldogs orchestrated an 11-play, 56-yard drive which was capped off by Johnson's 12-yard TD run to increase the Wingate lead to 14-0 with 9:11 to go before halftime.
The Pioneers fumbled on the second play of its ensuing possession, which was recovered by WU's Elijah Gilmore at the TC 21. The Pioneer defense bowed up and limited Wingate to a Baird 23-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 17-0 advantage with 6:14 left before the intermission.
Both teams came up empty on their next possessions and were forced to punt. Tusculum punter Hunter Cantrell had his punt blocked by Ray Edwards resulting into a safety with 45 seconds in the half as the Bulldogs took a 19-0 lead into the locker room.
With the weather and field conditions deteriorating as the game progressed, neither team could generate much offensively in the second half. Pendergrass was intercepted on the first play of the second half by Cameron Mattison at the WU 38. Wingate fumbled at the 8:22 mark of the third period which was forced Jitu Booker and recovered by L'Keith Brown at the TC 38.
Wingate drove into Tusculum territory and advanced as far as the TC 25-yard line. But Matt Simon came up with the stop on fourth down and six yards to go as TC took over. The Pioneers put together its best offensive series of the day, marching 46 yards to the WU 29, but Pendergrass was picked off on a second occasion, this time by Zack Singleton to stop the TC drive.
Tusculum was forced to punt on its final two possessions, while Wingate punted and turned the ball over on downs to wrap up the fourth quarter and the game.
The Bulldogs finished with 245 yards (209 rushing, 36 passing) on 73 plays as Johnson went 4-of-9 for 36 yards and was sacked once. Pendergrass went 5-of-15 for Tusculum for nine yards as Tusculum posted 45 offensive plays on the afternoon.
Three Tusculum players finished with double-digit tackles led by Brandon Williams' 12 tackles, including three for loss. Cameron Thomas and L'Keith Brown each posted 10 stops apiece, while Simon tallied seven tackles, including one for loss.
Wingate's Andre Foulks and Mackenzie Battle each recorded six tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage by Battle.
Belle was TC's top runner as he rushed for 60 yards on 17 carries.
Pittman, the league's top-rusher was limited to just 30 yards on his 15 carries, 120 yards shy of his per game average this season.
Tusculum returns to action next Saturday when the Pioneers host North Greenville University for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff at Pioneer Field.