GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum Pioneers (3-5, 2-3 SAC) return to South Atlantic Conference play this week as the Sons of Davy Crockett host the Catawba Indians (1-7, 0-5 SAC) for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff from the Niswonger Sports Complex and Pioneer Field.
After starting the season 1-5, the Pioneers have bounced back with back-to-back wins over Virginia-Wise and UNC Pembroke. SAC Defensive Player of the Week Jackson Cauthen returned an interception for a 31-yard touchdown and also made a key fourth-down stop in the final minute in TU's 23-20 win over UNC Pembroke for the Pioneers' first home victory of 2019. Cauthen finished with eight tackles including three for loss (-9 yards), one sack (-6 yards) and forced a fumble.
Redshirt freshman kicker Eli Shepherd connected on all three of his field goal attempts including a season-long 45-yarder in the third quarter and his 18-yard kick early in the fourth in what would prove to be the game-winner. Shepherd also connected on his two extra point tries as he was tabbed the SAC Special Teams Player of the Week
Catawba suffered its sixth consecutive loss in last week's 55-28 home setback to Mars Hill. The Catawba Indians surrendered 35 points in the second quarter including three touchdowns by SAC Offensive Player of the Week Craig Rucker on a one-yard rush, an 84-yard punt return and a 37-yard TD reception. In Catawba's last four games alone, the Indians have been outscored by a 210-87 margin as the Indians are winless in conference play.
Catawba was winless in the league-play when the Indians and Pioneers met last year in Salisbury, but the home team scored 20 points in the final four minutes for a 55-37 victory. In that game, Tusculum jumped out to a 23-7 lead at halftime, but the Indians outscored the Pioneers 48-14 in the second half including 34-7 in the fourth quarter.
SCOUTING THE PIONEERS
The Pioneers are looking to keep its hopes alive in finishing the year with a winning record, needing to win its final three regular-season contests including Saturday's league clash with Catawba.
The Tusculum defense forced three turnovers in last Saturday's win over UNC Pembroke, which the TU took advantage of converting the miscues into a touchdown and two field goals.
All-SAC and All-Region linebacker Ivan Hogans leads the Pioneers on defense with 55 tackles including six four loss and four quarterback hurries. Hogans posted eight tackles against UNCP including the 200th of his career to become only the 20th Tusculum player to achieve the personal milestone.
Sophomore linebacker Jackson Cauthen is just behind Hogans with his 54 stops, but leads the team with 10 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and tied for the lead with his two interceptions. He also has two sacks to his credit and a QB hurry. His 0.29 fumbles forced per game average is tied for the lead in the SAC and is 29th in NCAA II, while his 7.7 tackles per game average is fourth in the conference.
Senior free safety Malik Goodman is this on the roster with 38 tackles including two for loss, and three passes defended with an interception. Last week, Goodman added six tackles including five solos and a hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Senior cornerback Dee Alford led the Pioneers with eight tackles a week ago while forcing a fumble. The two-time All-SAC selection has accounted for two interceptions this year, giving him seven of his career, which are tie for sixth place in TU history. Alford is listed 30th in the nation averaging 1.4 passes defended per game (2 interceptions, 9 pass break-ups). Two weeks ago, he was tabbed the SAC Defensive Player of the Week.
Alford continues to be spectacular on special teams where he is eighth in the country in punt return averaging 14.7 yards per return. Last Saturday, he eclipsed 500 punt return yards for his career as his 501 yards are the third-most in the TU record book. His 46 career returns are also third in school history while his 10.89 career return average is fourth-best by a Pioneer.
Senior tailback Jordon Shippy is leading the offensive charge for Tusculum and is third in the SAC with his 620 rushing yards, while his 77.5 rushing yards per game average is sixth-best in the league. He ran for a 123 yards last week against UNCP which was his third 100-yard game of the season and fifth of his Tusculum career. During Shippy's career, TU has a 4-1 record when he eclipses 100 yards with only this year's game at Newberry being the only loss (162 yards).
Shippy has rushed for 1,806 yards in his career, needing two more rushing yards to move past Birdie Dockery for fifth on the Tusculum charts. He is also seventh in career rush attempts (371) and all-purpose attempts (409).
Shippy has also been a target when TU goes to the air, making 18 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. His five TDs this year (3 rush, 2 receiving) has him tied for the team lead with 30 points.
Redshirt quarterback Bryce Moore is slated to start under center for a seventh time when the Black and Orange got into action on Saturday. The 6-4, 215-pounder was limited to four completions for 19 yards last week, but he kept the Tusculum offense churning going without a turnover and also rushed for 24 of the team's season-best 283 yards on the ground. Moore has passed for 801 yards and six touchdowns to go along with six interceptions.
Sophomore wideout Ajay Belanger leads the team with his 25 receptions, but he had his streak of 17 consecutive games with a catch end last Saturday against UNCP. His 326 receiving yards and three TD receptions are tied for second on the team.
Sophomore Tory Ponder leads TU with his 410 receiving yards and four TD grabs, while being second on the club with 23 catches.
The injury bug that has plagued the Tusculum offensive line throughout the 2019 campaign has finally settled down with the corps of Keveon Broadwater, Rick Jeantihomee, Bailey Herring, Brandon Harrison and Christian Coulture starting in consecutive games.
Tusculum's return teams have been special for the Pioneers this year with freshman Thurlow Wilkins handling kickoffs, while Alford has shined on punt returns. Wilkins is averaging 33.4 yards per kickoff return which leads the SAC and is fifth in the country. He returned a 93-yarder against Newberry earlier this season. Wilkins showed off his speed last week when at tailback, he sprinted for a 59-yard touchdown against Pembroke.
Shepherd is settling in at placekicker as the Greeneville native is handling the extra point and field goal tries, while Alan Andrzejewski is manning the kickoff duties. Shepherd has gone 4-for-5 on field goals and 18-of-19 on extra points for his 30 points. Sophomore punter Andrew Cantrell is averaging 35.5 yards per punt resulting in 11 kicks inside the 20-yard line and 11 fair catches. Cantrell has recorded 99 punts in his career and his 37.23 punting average is ninth in school history.
South Atlantic Conference charter member Catawba College will be looking for its first league victory of the season when the Indians visit Greeneville this Saturday.
Catawba head coach Curtis Walker, who is in his seventh season at his alma mater, has seen his team battle through injuries and are looking to shake a six-game losing streak and a seven-game SAC drought dating back to last year with a 43-6 home win over Limestone on Oct. 27, 2018. The Indians have also dropped its last six SAC road games dating back to Oct. 28, 2017, a 45-28 triumph at Limestone.
Freshman quarterback Kaylon Wade is expected to make his second career start and first on the road this weekend as he is in for the injured Kendall Davis. Wade passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 55-28 defeat at home to Mars Hill. Wade went 22-of-45 on the day including 10 tosses to senior Gavin Rose who finished with 194 yards and two scores. Rose's 194-yard performance was the sixth-best by a Catawba receiver.
Rose leads the team with his 381 receiving yards, while junior Kolby Easley is tops on the squad with his 21 receptions and is third with two TD catches. Rose will also handle a majority of the return duties for both punts and kickoffs.
Junior running back Demonte Good is Catawba's top ground-gainer averaging 66.5 yards per contest with two touchdowns on his 132 carries. He is averaging 4.0 yards per rush and his 532 rushing yards are sixth in the league.
The Catawba offense is putting up 17.6 points per game which is eighth in the conference, but when the Indians do get inside the red zone the make the most of it scoring 92.9 percent of the time which is tops in the league and 10th in the country.
Defensively, All-SAC junior linebacker Jeremiah Ferguson leads Catawba with his 52 tackles. He has also posted five tackles for loss with 2 ½ sacks with a fumble forced and a recovery. All-SAC senior linebacker LJ Melvin is second on the roster with his 48 tackles to go along with his team-leading eight tackles for loss and four sacks. He has also returned an interception 54 yards and has five QB hurries to his credit.
All-SAC cornerback Cris Page is third with his 45 tackles and his three interceptions are third in the conference while his 12 passes defended are fourth in the league and 23rd in the country.
As a team, Catawba is last in the SAC in both third-down (51%) and fourth down defense (82%), but the Indians are the least penalized team in the conference, committing just over five penalties per game which is 24th in the nation.
Freshman Clayton Crile will handle the punting and kicking chores for Catawba. He is averaging 38.9 yards per punt and has yet to have a punt blocked this year. He is 5-of-9 on field goals with a season-best 45-yarder in the season-opener against 15th-ranked West Georgia. Crile has also gone 16-of-17 on his extra point tries and leads the team in scoring with 31 points.
The 24th renewal of one of the more entertaining football rivalries in the South Atlantic Conference takes place this week as the Tusculum Pioneers host the Catawba Indians.
Twelve of the last 19 encounters between Tusculum and Catawba have been decided by 10 points or less. In the 23 previous meetings, 11 have been decided by a single possession, including five by three points or fewer.
Catawba leads the all-time series 16-7 and has won six of the last eight encounters. Tusculum's first game against a nationally-ranked NCAA Division II opponent was No. 7 Catawba in 1997. TU's first win over a nationally-ranked DII foe was Catawba the following year as the Pioneers upset the Catawba Indians 23-21 at Shuford Stadium. In fact, three of TU's 13 wins against nationally-ranked teams have been against Catawba in 1998, 2004 and 2007. That 2004 win came during TU's homecoming.
Catawba won the first two meetings in 1996 and 1997, before TU posted the 1998 upset in Salisbury. The Indians followed with five straight victories from 1999-2003. TU won three of the next four meetings from 2004-2007 and Catawba followed with back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009.
Tusculum and Catawba have met on the gridiron every season since 1996, making it the longest active series against a Pioneer opponent (24 consecutive seasons).
THIS WEEK'S GAME PROMOTION
This week's contest is Tusculum's Give Back Canned Food Drive promotion. Fans donating five (5) non-perishable food items will receive one free game admission to Saturday's contest between the Pioneers and the Catawba Indians. All items collected will be donated to the Greeneville Food Bank.
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. 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.
Tusculum closes out its season-long three-game home-stand when they host cross-mountain rival Mars Hill at Pioneer Field. Next week is Senior Day as 28 TU student-athletes will be playing in their final home game. It is also Military and First Responders Appreciation Day.