GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- After playing three of its first four games on the road, the Tusculum University football team will play five of its next six contests at home beginning with Saturday's Homecoming clash against 16th-ranked and undefeated Wingate University.
The Pioneers (1-3, 1-1 South Atlantic Conference) will host their second ranked opponent in as many home games as the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SAC) venture to the Niswonger Sports Complex and Pioneer Field for a 2 p.m. (ET) kick-off.
RECAPPING LAST WEEK
Tusculum dominated the game both offensively and defensively last week at Newberry, but the Wolves scored 23 straight points and took advantage of five Tusculum turnovers in a 30-20 SAC win for the home team.
The Newberry defense scored its team's first nine points with a scoop and score on an errant TU lateral pass and also recorded a safety later in the half.
Offensively, the Pioneers nearly doubled the Wolves in total yardage (424-249), but TU had one touchdown erased due to a penalty and two potential scoring drives going into the end zone were halted due to turnovers inside the Wolves' five-yard line.
Tusculum senior running back Jordon Shippy rushed for a season-best 162 yards on 16 carries including two touchdowns. The Pioneers finished the contest with 247 rushing yards while Newberry was limited to just 69 yards on the ground.
Redshirt freshman Thurlow Wilkins totaled a school single-game record with 191 kickoff returns yards in the contest, including his 93-yard touchdown return to open the second half. His 93-yard return was the seventh longest in TU history and for his efforts, he was named the AstroTurf SAC Special Teams Player of the Week. His 191 kickoff return yards broke the previous record set by TU and SAC Hall of Famer Ricardo Colclough in 2003 against Morehouse College (189).
Wingate remained undefeated on the young season as McLean Robertson booted a 38-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining in the Bulldogs' 13-10 win at Catawba last Saturday night.
SCOUTING THE PIONEERS
For the second time in three years, Tusculum hosts an undefeated Wingate team as the Bulldogs visit Greeneville. Wingate came to Pioneer Field in 2017 with a 10-0 in its last trip having already sealed a conference championship. TU will be looking to hand the Bulldogs their first loss of the year again, but this time just five weeks into the season.
Offensively, Shippy has been steady at tailback averaging 82.8 rushing yards per game, which is third in the league and 50th in NCAA Division II. He has rushed for 331 yards on 69 carries with three touchdowns. He is also TU's second-leading receiver with 12 receptions and 101 yards including a TD. He became the sixth running back in program history to eclipse the 1,500 rushing yard plateau for his career (1,517 yds).
The redshirt freshman duo of Bryce Moore and Joaquin Collazo have shared quarterback duties this season. Moore has passed for 448 yards with four touchdowns, while Collazo has tallied 276 passing yards with one TD.
Sophomore Ajay Belanger is TU's top receiving target tallying 17 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, junior linebacker Ivan Hogans leads the way with his 25 tackles including a team-best five for loss and two quarterback hurries. The 2018 All-SAC and All-Region selection enters this week's contest with 170 career stops including 27 behind the line of scrimmage.
Sophomore linebacker Jackson Cauthen is second with 23 tackles including three for loss and one interception, while senior linebacker Chris Matheus is third with 18 tackles and three tackles for loss.
Tusculum boasts one of the top return tandems in the country on both kickoffs and punts. Redshirt freshman Thurlow Wilkins is tops in the conference averaging 35.8 yards per kickoff return, which is the sixth most in the country. Senior Dee Alford has been solid on the punt return team, averaging 18.08 yards per return, which is second in the SAC and sixth in the nation.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Wingate head coach Joe Reich, who has led Wingate to back-to-back NCAA appearances, has the league's top running back in his offensive arsenal in Domineke McNeill, who is rushing for 104.3 yards per game with three touchdowns. The Bulldogs are third in the league in scoring offense posting 29.8 points per game, while the WU defense is also third allowing just 17.0 points per contest.
Sophomore quarterback Shaw Crocker in under center for the Bulldogs averaging 168.8 passing yards per game with five touchdowns and one interception while completing 58.3 percent of his passes. Raguan Simmons leads the team with 15 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown, while R.J. Mobley is second with 10 grabs for 121 yards and one score. BJ Muckelvene leads the team in TD receptions with three to go along with his eight catches for 188 yards. Muckelvene also hands the punt return duties averaging 15.4 yards per return.
Junior defensive end Jesiah Carlton has the early lead in tackles for the Bulldogs with 24 stops including five for loss and two sacks. Senior linebacker Elijah Gilmore is second with 23 tackles with four behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks. Senior defensive end Cal Hanford leads the team with four sacks to go along with his 14 tackles.
Robertson leads the conference in scoring with 35 points as the Wingate junior kicker is a perfect 14-of-14 in extra points and his 7-of-11 in field goals including two game-winners in victories over Catawba and Carson-Newman (30-28).
This week will be the 24th meeting between the Pioneers and Bulldogs. Wingate leads the all-time series 14-9, but the Black and Orange has won three of the last five meetings including a 25-17 decision at Tusculum in 2017, spoiling Wingate's bid for an undefeated regular season.
Since 1936, Tusculum is 15-21 during its annual homecoming game, including 12-7 since 2000. TU has won three of its last four homecoming games including last year's 14-0 shutout over Newberry. Included in that run was a 26-17 victory against Wingate in the 2015 Homecoming Game.
This year will mark the fifth time the Bulldogs have been TU's Homecoming foe, the most by any opponent. Tusculum is 2-2 in the previous Homecoming encounters with Wingate winning in 2001 and 2015, while the Bulldogs coming out victorious in 1998 and again in 2005.
The Pioneers have played a ranked opponent four times at homecoming resulting in a 3-1 record with wins over #3 Morehead State (2002), #12 Catawba (2004) and #23 Wingate (2015). TU's lone Homecoming loss to a ranked foe was against #18 Carson-Newman in 2014.
Prior to this year, Wingate and Newberry are tied for the most TU homecoming appearances with four apiece. Catawba and Lenoir-Rhyne are tied for third with three times each, while ETSU, Carson-Newman, Cumberland (Tenn.), Emory & Henry, Georgetown (Ky.) and Presbyterian has been TU's homecoming guest twice.
TUSCULUM VERSUS RANKED TEAMS
This week will mark the 46th time Tusculum has faced a nationally-ranked opponent when the No. 16 Wingate Bulldogs visits Greeneville. The Pioneers are 13-32 all-time against ranked teams but are 11-12 at home in those contests. At home, Tusculum is 3-0 vs a ranked Wingate team, 3-2 vs Carson-Newman, 2-3 vs Catawba, 0-1 vs Lenoir-Rhyne, 0-1 vs Newberry and 0-1 vs West Alabama.
Tusculum's Dee Alford and Thurlow Wilkins are listed in this week's NCAA Division II statistics. Alford is 6th in the country in punt returns averaging 18.08 yards per return. His return average is 3rd highest in a TU single-season (min. 10 att.) while his 216 punt return yards are 6th in the TU record book this year.
Wilkins is 6th in the nation in kickoff returns, posting 35.8 yards per return. He established a new TU single-game record with 191 kickoff return yards last week against Newberry, including a 93-yard touchdown, which is the 7th longest in program history.
As a team, Tusculum is third in NCAA II in kickoff return average, posting 31.44 yards per return. TU also leads the South Atlantic Conference in time of possession posting 35:44 per contest, which is third-best in the country.
Many activities are planned with Homecoming Weekend starting with the 3K Glow Fun/Run Walk on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. on the Greeneville campus. The Homecoming Golf Tournament is slated for Friday afternoon at Graysburg Hills Golf Club with a 1:30 p.m. shotgun start (limited spots are still available). The Sports Hall of Fame Breakfast is Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. at the Niswonger Student Commons (reservations required).
The Pioneer Club Tailgate Party begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Stadium with the Homecoming Parade scheduled for 12:15 p.m. followed by the "Pioneer Walk" at 12:30 p.m.
Fans are asked to wear their Tusculum Orange and Free T-Shirts (sponsored by Eastman Credit Union) will be given away as well as mini-schedule posters (while supplies last).
General admission tickets for Saturday's game are $12 each with children ages 12 and under receiving free admission. Tickets go on sale starting at 12:30 p.m. on game day (No Advance Ticket Sales).
PIONEER SPORTS NETWORK
Saturday's game will be broadcast on the Pioneer Sports Network. Join the "Voice of the Pioneers" Brian Stayton, along with Joe Byrd and Nathan Humbard as they describe all the action. Listen locally in Greene County on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM. A free video stream of the game will also be available at www.TusculumPioneers.com and on the department's YouTube page at www.YouTube.com/TusculumAthletics.