GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University football team returns to Pioneer Field to begin a season-long three-game home-stand when TU hosts UNC Pembroke this Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. This will be the final non-conference contest of the year for Tusculum.
The Pioneers (2-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 21-19 road win at South Atlantic Conference newcomer UVa-Wise last Saturday at Carl Smith Stadium. TU redshirt freshman quarterback Bryce Moore accounted for all three touchdowns as he passed for two and ran for another as the Pioneers improved to 2-3 in SAC play.
The Tusculum defense limited the Cavaliers to 253 yards in the game including 83 yards in the second half with 80 of those coming in the final offensive possession of the game. The defense finished with 14 tackles for loss including six sacks and 13 pass break-ups which are tied for the second-most in school history.
UNC Pembroke (3-4) is wrapping up its third and final season as a SAC schedule-alliance member as they make the 300-mile trip to Greeneville. UNCP will be joining the Mountain East Conference as an associate member starting in 2020. The Braves will continue to be a member of the Peach Belt Conference in its other sports.
The Braves remained winless on the road with last Saturday's 48-38 loss at No. 13 and undefeated Wingate. UNCP scored a pair of special teams touchdowns and tallied 35 second half points but were unable to overcome a sizeable deficit and suffer the program's 12th consecutive road loss. Pembroke is in the middle of a season-long four-game road swing.
SCOUTING THE PIONEERS
Tusculum will be looking for its first home win of the year when the Braves come to Greeneville this week. TU's first three home contests have all been against nationally-ranked foes including No. 20 West Alabama, No .16 Wingate and No. 8 Lenoir-Rhyne. Both Lenoir-Rhyne (now 7th in NCAA II) and Wingate (12th in NCAA II) are both still undefeated and both have moved up in the national polls.
Defensively, 2018 All-Region and All-SAC linebacker Ivan Hogans is leading charge with a team-high 47 tackles, including five for loss with three quarterback hurries. The Stockbridge, Georgia junior accounted for six tackles last weekend at UVa-Wise giving him 192 stops for his career. With eight more hits, Hogans will become the 20th player in program history to eclipse the 200-tackle plateau for a career.
Sophomore Jackson Cauthen is second on the team with 46 tackles and a team-high seven tackles for loss with one sack and an interception. Cauthen was out of the line-up last week due to injury. Sophomore Jahaud Russ earned the start in place of Cauthen and led the Pioneers with eight tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks.
Senior free safety Malik Goodman is third on the TU roster with 32 tackles to go along with an interception while sophomore defensive lineman CJ Bartley is fourth with 30 stops including three for loss, one sack and an interception. Bartley was injured late in the UVa-Wise game and is questionable for this week's game.
Senior cornerback Dee Alford was spectacular in the secondary for the Black and Orange last week as he posted six tackles and finished with a career-high five passes defended including four break-ups and his second interception of the season. His interception was the seventh of his career, moving him into a tie for sixth place in the TU record book. The pick, which he returned 32 yards to midfield, set up Tusculum's first touchdown on Saturday. For his efforts, Alford was named the AstroTurf SAC Defensive Player of the Week. He is also listed 19th in the nation averaging 1.6 passes defended per game (2 interceptions, 9 pass break-ups).
Alford also shined on special teams where he returned six punts for 92 yards including a career-long 52-yarder. His 332 punt return yards this year are the second-most in a season by a Pioneer and is closing in on the school record of 393 yards posted by All-American returner Donald Amaker in 2001.
Senior defensive back David Johnson returned to the Tusculum starting line-up after missing the last two games since being injured in the second half in the Newberry game in what could have been a season-ending injury. In his first game back, Johnson tallied five tackles including two for loss with one sack and a career-high four pass break-ups.
On offense, senior running back Jordon Shippy has been leading the backfield averaging 71 rushing yards per game which is sixth in the league. He has rushed for 497 yards on 120 carries with three touchdowns. He has also been effective in the receiving corps tallying 17 catches for 175 yards and two TD grabs. His 96 all-purpose yards per game average is listed sixth in the conference.
Shippy accounted for 179 all-purpose yards against UVa-Wise last week including 127 rushing yards on 29 carries for his fourth 100-yard game of his career.
Bryce Moore returned to the starting line-up at quarterback since being injured early in the Wingate game on Oct. 5. The 6-4, 215-pounder amassed 243 yards offensively, passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for a season-best 53 yards including a 15-yard TD scamper in what proved to be the game-winning score. He has passed for 782 yards this season with six touchdowns, but has been intercepted six times including three picks in last week's game. Moore is also TU's second leading rusher with 152 yards averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Joaquin Collazo has appeared in six games this year including two starts including TU's last home game against Lenoir-Rhyne two weeks ago. Collazo has 564 passing yards to his credit with five touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has a rushing touchdown to his credit.
Sophomores Ajay Belanger and Tory Ponder have been Tusculum's top two receivers this year. Belanger leads TU with 25 receptions and is second with 326 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Ponder is tops on the team with 403 receiving yards and four touchdowns, and is second with 21 catches. Both hauled in TD passes last week at UVa-Wise. Ponder put TU on the board with a 25-yard TD catch in the first quarter, while Belanger made a sensational one-handed grab on his 35-yard touchdown reception in the second frame.
The offensive line continues to battle through injuries as the starting five has been different week-to-week. Junior center Bailey Herring continues to play well, while All-Region senior tackle Keveon Broadwater has started in every game of his collegiate career with the Pioneers.
SCOUTING UNC PEMBROKE
The UNC Pembroke Braves provide the opposition for this week's NCAA II Super Region 2 clash at Pioneer Field.
UNCP is looking to get back the swagger from three years ago when the Braves posted a 10-2 record and advance to the NCAA Playoffs. Since that 2016 season, UNCP has gone 7-20 including back-to-back 2-8 campaigns.
Coach Shane Richardson, who is in his sixth year at Pembroke, has the Braves clicking offensively, churning out nearly 27 points per game and are leading the nation in red zone offense scoring on all 25 of their trips into the red zone. In their last two games UNCP is averaging 37 points per contest.
The Braves boast a 3-1 record at this year including victories over Winston-Salem State and South Atlantic Conference teams Catawba and Mars Hill.
Leading the team on offense is sophomore quarterback Josh Jones. The 6-3, 220-pounder from Wilmington, North Carolina has completed 61 percent of his pass attempts for 1,315 yards and 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. He has targeted 12 different receivers this year. He is also a threat with his legs rushing for 112 yards and three TDs.
Sophomore Tyshawn Carter leads UNCP with his 28 receptions and is second with 258 receiving yards. Senior Quay Threatt has totaled a team-best 278 receiving yards and is second with his 25 catches. Sophomores Marcus McDonald and Faheem Diaab are tied for the team lead with three touchdown grabs apiece.
Senior tailback Josh Sheridan guides the UNCP ground game averaging 63.1 rushing yards per game and is the team-leader with six touchdowns.
Defensively, the Braves are allowing 36.7 points per game including a season-worst 69 points to Carson-Newman three weeks ago.
Junior linebacker Amari Brice-Greene is UNCP's top-tackler with 51 stops including two for loss and a pass break-up. Junior defensive lineman Taye Vereen is second with 36 tackles with three for loss and one sack.
Rookie strong safety Sean Hill is patrolling the secondary for the Braves and leads the team with his three interceptions.
UNC Pembroke possesses one of the best special team units in the country. Junior punter Isaac Parks leads the nation in punting average posting 46.7 yards per boot on his 33 attempts including a long of 67 yards and has pinned the opposition inside the 20-yard line on 14 occasions.
Freshman Hunter Braswell handles the placekicking duties where he is a perfect 5-of-5 on field goals with a long of 34 yards and has been accurate on kickoffs where his team leads the nation in return defense allowing teams to average just 11.4 yards per return.
Junior Devin Jones is 15th in the country in kickoff returns averaging 28.2 yards per return. Last week, he brought back a 100-yard kickoff for a touchdown at Wingate, his second of the season. He returned an 87-yarder to the house at Virginia State. He is one of only four players in NCAA Division II with two TD returns this year.
For the sixth time the Pioneers and Braves will meet on the collegiate gridiron. UNCP leads the all-time series 3-2 with the teams splitting the two meetings in Greeneville, while the Braves hold a 2-1 advantage in Pembroke.
The teams first met on Oct. 8, 2011 in Pembroke as the Braves winning a 58-38 shootout over the Pioneers. UNCP would follow with two more wins in the series, posting a 20-10 win in 2012 in their first trip to Greeneville and followed the next season with a convincing 60-20 victory in Pembroke.
On a cold and snow-covered Pioneer Field in 2014, Tusculum quarterback Kyle Dickey (current TU graduate assistant coach) accounted for three touchdowns including a game-winning 27-yard TD pass to Deon Hicks for a 20-17 overtime victory. Trailing 17-14 and on fourth-down and 12 yards to go, Dickey went to the right corner of the end zone and found Hicks in double coverage as he hauled in the winning score.
The two teams would not meet again until Sep. 23, 2017 as the Pioneers won 31-10 in Pembroke. TU and UNCP were scheduled to play in Greeneville last year but the game was cancelled due to the aftermath of Hurricane Florence which caused flooding to the UNCP campus, making travel hazardous for the Pembroke student-athletes and staff who had evacuated prior to the storm.
Something will give this week when Tusculum and UNC Pembroke square off. The Pioneers are looking for their first home win of 2019 after dropping losses to three nationally-ranked teams in West Alabama, Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne. TU's last home win came on Oct. 27, 2018 in a 41-28 victory over arch-rival Carson-Newman.
UNC Pembroke is looking to halt a 12-game road losing streak including 0-3 this year. The Braves last win away from Pembroke was Sep. 9, 2017 in a 66-14 victory at Elizabeth City State.
THIS WEEK'S GAME PROMOTION
The Pioneers get a head start on Halloween as the TU Spirit Squad is sponsoring a costume contest with the winners being announced at halftime of Saturday's game. Saturday is also Tusculum Faculty & Staff Appreciation Day as well as part of South Atlantic Conference Sportsmanship Week and Officials Appreciation Week.
Alford is ninth in the country in punt returns averaging 15.09 yards per return. His return average is the fifth highest in a TU single-season (min. 10 att.) while his 332 punt return yards are second in the TU record book this year and is just 61 yards off the TU single-season record 393 yards posted by Donald Amaker in 2001.
Wilkins is listed fifth in the country with his one kickoff return for a touchdown, a 93-yarder at Newberry on Sept. 28. In that game he established a new TU single-game record with 191 kickoff return yards and his 93-yard touchdown return, which is the seventh longest in program history. Wilkins leads Tusculum with his 33.4 yards per return average, but is not ranked this week as he doesn't meet the statistical minimum of playing in 75% of the team's games (played in 5 of 7, 72%). If he sees action this week, he should return to the rankings.
As a team, Tusculum is 14th in NCAA II in kickoff return average, posting 25.44 yards per return. TU is first in the South Atlantic Conference in time of possession posting 33:25 per contest, which is 10th in the country.
The Pioneers are also 19th in team first down defense (109), 26th in team punt return average (13.06 ypr) and 40th in total defense (309.1 ypg).
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 12:00 p.m. on game day (No Advance Ticket Sales).
PIONEER SPORTS NETWORK
Saturday's game will be broadcast on the Pioneer Sports Network. 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.