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Winning season, history on the line as Pioneers travel to Carson-Newman Saturday

Winning season, history on the line as Pioneers travel to Carson-Newman Saturday

GAME NOTES

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum Pioneers close out the 2019 campaign this week as the Sons of Davy Crockett make the 50-mile trek to Jefferson City to take on arch-rival Carson-Newman University at Burke-Tarr Stadium. The kick-off from Mossy Creek is scheduled for 1 p.m. (ET).

Tusculum (5-5, 4-3 SAC) is coming off a 24-7 victory over Mars Hill last Saturday in TU's home finale. After starting the season 1-5, the Pioneers have rallied with four consecutive wins for its longest winning streak since closing out the 2014 campaign with four Ws in a row.

Redshirt freshman running back Thurlow Wilkins rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown for his third 100-yard game in a row.  Senior corner back Dee Alford and the Tusculum defense shut down 2018 SAC Offensive Player of the Year Craig Rucker and held Mars Hill under 300 total yards for TU's third straight win over their cross-mountain rivals.

Carson-Newman (7-2, 5-2 SAC) ran its winning streak to three in a row and have won six of their last seven games in last weekend's thrilling 42-35 victory at Limestone.  The Eagles scored in the final minute to improve their resume as C-N makes a charge for the NCAA II Playoffs.

The victory last week for Tusculum secured a 5-win season for a third straight year. The last time TU won five or more games in three consecutive seasons was from 2006-2008.         

WHAT'S AT STAKE THIS WEEK

Tusculum will be looking for some firsts and end a drought dating back over 85 years.  A TU victory this week against Carson-Newman would give the Pioneers its first winning season since 2014 (6-5).  Tusculum is also looking for its first-ever win at Burke-Tarr Stadium and end an 11-game skid.

A win would also be Tusculum's first victory in Jefferson City since Oct. 20, 1934 as the Pioneers won 3-0 to win the Smokey-Mountain Athletic Conference title.  It would end a 15-game road losing streak in Jefferson City snapping a drought at Mossy Creek, when the Creek was probably void of moss or anything else for that matter.

A Pioneer victory would also earn this year's TU senior class its third win over the Eagles, the most by any Tusculum graduating class since the 1920 senior group won four straight over Carson-Newman.

The Eagles are listed fifth in this week's NCAA II Super Region 2 rankings and are looking to return to the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2015.

SERIES HISTORY

The 49th renewal of the Tusculum/Carson-Newman football series will be held this week as Tusculum travels to Mossy Creek to take on the Eagles.  Carson-Newman leads the series 34-12-2 but the Pioneers have won two of the last three meetings.

The Tusculum/Carson-Newman football rivalry began in 1904, making it the second oldest collegiate gridron series in the State of Tennessee (The Tennessee/Vanderbilt rivalry is the oldest as the Volunteers and Commodores first met in 1896).

Carson-Newman won the first two meetings in 1904 and 1913, before Tusculum reeled off six consecutive wins from 1914-1920.  On Oct. 11, 1919, the Pioneers scored a program-record 103 points in a 103-0 shutout of the Eagles.

The two teams would not meet again until 1926 as the Eagles posted a 6-0-2 record over the next eight meetings.  On Oct. 20, 1934, Andrew Kmetz kicked the game-winning field goal in Tusculum's 3-0 win over Carson-Newman en route to capturing the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship.

C-N won the next 10 meetings before the Pioneers discontinued the football program following the 1950 season.

The Pioneers reinstated the sport in 1991, but would not meet Carson-Newman on the gridiron again until 1998 when TU joined the South Atlantic Conference. Carson-Newman defeated Tusculum in 1998, 1999 and 2000, all games played at C-N's Burke-Tarr Stadium.

In 2001, Tusculum and C-N met in Greeneville and the Pioneers came away with a thrilling 37-36 victory over Carson-Newman.  Tusculum scored the go-ahead score on a nine-yard TD run by Aaron Claridy with 35 seconds remaining to lead 37-30.  C-N answered with a touchdown with 14 seconds left and elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win.  But TU's Michael Anderson made the game-winning stop of Antwon Oliver for the Pioneers' first win over C-N in 67 years.

Tusculum posted a 27-18 victory over the Eagles in their next trip to Greeneville in 2003 as the Pioneers won the 2003 SAC title.  Carson-Newman posted four straight wins from 2004-2007, before Tusculum's Brandon Kelly blocked an extra point with 1:49 remaining in the game in a 45-44 Pioneer win to win the SAC title and earn TU its first NCAA Playoff berth.

Carson-Newman rattled off seven straight wins from 2009-2016, including a 49-48 victory in the 2010 meeting as C-N scored a touchdown with 35 seconds left and converted the two-point conversion.  TU still had a chance to win it, but Gareth Rowland's 53-yard field goal try hit the left upright on the game's final play.

In 2016, Tusculum jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the third quarter only to see the Eagles tie the game at 23-23 to send the contest into overtime for the first time in the history of the series.  C-N scored first to take a 30-23 lead.  TU answered with a touchdown of its own and elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win.  Luke Lancaster rolled to his right and completed a pass to Jordon Shippy in the flat and behind blockers dove for the goal line and scored the two-point try to secure the 31-30 victory.

Carson-Newman was victorious in the last time these two met in Jefferson City in 2017 as C-N posted a 27-7 win on a rain-soaked day.

Tusculum answered with a 41-28 win last year in Greeneville, Lor'renzo Pratt scored four touchdowns, including a 91-yard kickoff return.   It was TU's largest margin of victory vs C-N since 1919 (103-0).

SCOUTING THE PIONEERS

After opening 1-5 facing a first half schedule that featured three nationally-ranked programs, the Tusculum Pioneers have weathered the storm and responded with four straight victories to level its record at 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the South Atlantic Conference.

The Pioneers are currently tied for fourth place in the league standings and could secure its second straight third place finish with a win this week at Carson-Newman.

During its four-game winning streak (wins over UVa-Wise, UNC Pembroke, Catawba, Mars Hill), the Pioneers are limiting the opposition to 15 points per contest and 259.2 total yards per game, including 57.8 rushing yards per contest.

The Tusculum defense has forced 12 turnovers over the last four games resulting into 44 points for the Black & Orange.

Offensively, the Pioneers are averaging 25 points per game in their last four outings and are generating 358.5 yards offensively, including 249.8 yards per game on the ground.

The linebacker duo of Ivan Hogans and Jackson Cauthen have paced the Pioneers defensively so far.

Hogans is first on the team with his 69 tackles including nine for loss and four quarterback hurries. The 2018 All-Region and All-SAC honoree joined Tusculum's 200-tackle club against UNC Pembroke last month.  He led all tacklers with 11 stops last week against Mars Hill.  His 214 career tackles are 18th in the TU record book, while his 31 career tackles for loss are ranked 10th most by a Pioneer.

Cauthen is second on the roster with 66 tackles, including a TU-best 13 for loss and three sacks. He also has two interceptions including one he returned for a TD three weeks ago against UNC Pembroke.  In that game, he made a fourth-down stop in the final minute to secure SAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.  Cauthen's 7.3 tackles per game average is fifth in the SAC while his 1.1 TFL average has him listed eighth.

Senior free safety Malik Goodman is third on the team with 43 tackles including two for loss, one interception and three pass break-ups.  Goodman is closing in on the 200-tackle club for his career needing 11 more stops to join Hogans in the exclusive group.

Senior cornerback Dee Alford leads the Pioneers pass defense with a team-best five interceptions and 19 passes defended.  His 0.5 interceptions per game average is second in the league and 18th in the country.  His five interceptions this year are tied for second in school history, while his 122 INT return yards has him in second place and 27 behind single-season leader Martez Thompkins who tallied 149 yards in 2015.

Alford became the 24th player in school history to pick off two passes in a single-game last week vs Mars Hill.  He also broke up five passes giving him a TU single-game mark of seven passes defended.

Alford is fourth on the team with 42 tackles, including three for loss with a forced fumble.  He is Tusculum's all-time leader in career passes defended (39) and interception return yards (195) and is third in the record book with his 10 career interceptions.

Alford has also been a threat on Tusculum's punt return team where he is second in the SAC averaging 14.2 yards per return, which is the 10th-best average in the country. For the season, Alford's average is ranked fifth in TU history while he is second in both punt returns (27) and punt returns yards (384).  He is four returns and nine yards away from the 2001 single-season record marks posted by All-American Donald Amaker.

Alford is listed third in the TU record book for both punt returns (49) and punt return yards (538) while his 10.94 return average is fourth in school history.

Senior David Johnson is second on the team with his 12 passes defended (9 break-ups, 3 interceptions).   His 1.5 passed defended per game average is third in the conference and 20th in NCAA II. Johnson has made 31 tackles including six for loss and two sacks this season. For his career, Johnson has made 88 tackles, including 12 for loss with three sacks, five career interceptions and 18 career passes defended.

Redshirt freshman Nick Jackson has been starting at "rover" in the Tusculum secondary where he has made 33 tackles with one for loss and three passes defended including his second half interception last week against Mars Hill to set up a Tusculum TD.

On offense, senior tailback Jordon Shippy has led the Pioneers rushing for 731 yards (10th in TU history), which are second in the conference and 48th in the nation.  He is averaging 81.2 rushing yards per game (5th in SAC) including 5.1 yards per carry. He has scored five touchdowns this year (3 rush, 2 receiving) and is closing in on the 2,000 rushing yard plateau for his career.

But his status is questionable heading into his collegiate finale.  He was injured in the third quarter against Catawba two weeks ago and did not dress for the home finale against Mars Hill.  Shippy (1,917) needs 83 yards to become only the fifth player in program history to eclipse 2,000 yards. He has recorded four 100-yard rushing performances this year, giving him six for his career, which are tied for the third-most in school history.  When Shippy goes for 100, the Pioneers are 5-1 during his career.

Thurlow Wilkins has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last three games and is averaging 103 yards per contest during Tusculum's 4-game winning streak. He ran for 149 yards and a touchdown last week against Mars Hill following his season-best 153-yard effort two weeks against Catawba. He finished the Catawba game with 211 all-purpose yards including 58 yards on his two kickoff returns. 

Wilkins is second on the team with 454 rushing yards on 68 attempts and averages 6.7 yards per carry.  He has rushed for three touchdowns and posted a 93-yard kickoff return at Newberry for a TD.  Wilkins leads the SAC averaging 32.9 yards per kickoff return which is ninth in the country.  His 122.50 all-purpose yards per game average is second in the SAC and 39th in Division II.

Sophomore Maurice Gomillion is third on the team rushing for 218 yards on 51 carries including a season-best 83 yards last week against Catawba.

The redshirt freshmen duo of Bryce Moore and Joaquin Collazo have taken a bulk of the snaps at quarterback.  Moore has garnered seven starts, while Collazo has three starts under his belt.  Collazo took over for Moore in the second quarter two weeks ago vs Catawba as he managed the offense into 32 points including his 30-yard touchdown pass to Ajay Belanger.

Last week against Mars Hill, he went 12-of-16 for 103 yards with zero interceptions and a TD, a 13-yard scoring strike to sophomore Jacob Moss.

Collazo has passed for 725 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.  Moore has 876 passing yards to his credit with six touchdowns and seven picks.  Senior Hunter Weismore has played in four contests where he has passed for 125 yards with a TD and one interception.

Belanger and fellow sophomore Tory Ponder have been the top two receiving targets this year.  Belanger leads the team with 34 receptions and is second with 439 receiving yards and three touchdowns.  Ponder leads the team in receiving yards (476) and TD catches (5), while he is second with 30 receptions.  Shippy is third with 18 catches for 184 yards.  Deshawn Davis (11-133), Jacob Moss (12-136) and Chavis Williams (10-127) each have over 10 catches and over 100 yards on their respective lists.             

The trio of Carter Mangel, Tyron Hundley and Conner Johnston have manned the tight end position for the Pioneers. Mangel has made three catches for 17 yards, while Hundley has two grabs to his credit for 14 yards. Johnston has one reception for 12 yards.

The Tusculum offensive line unit remained intact for three straight games with the corps of Keveon Broadwater, Rick Jeantihomee, Bailey Herring, Brandon Harrison and Christian Coulture starting in consecutive games.  For Broadwater and Harrison, this will be their final collegiate game, along with senior Grant Cordell, who has also seen playing time this year.

On special teams, Greeneville redshirt freshman Eli Shepherd has been very consistent at placekicker handling the extra point and field goal duties, while Alan Andrzejewski is manning kickoffs.  Shepherd has gone 8-for-10 on field goals this year and 24-of-25 on extra points for his team-leading 48 points.  During Tusculum's winning streak, Shepherd has gone a perfect 11-of-11 on extra points and 7-of-9 in field goals.

Sophomore punter Andrew Cantrell is averaging 35.5 yards per punt resulting in 13 kicks inside the 20-yard line.  Cantrell has recorded 106 punts in his career and his 37.14 punting average is 9th in TU history.

SCOUTING CARSON-NEWMAN

For the Carson-Newman Eagles, the math is simple... WIN and we're in!  Head coach Mike Turner, who is wrapping up his third season as head coach at his alma mater, has his Eagle squad poised for the NCAA II postseason.  C-N is riding a three-game winning streak and have won six of their last seven games including last week's 42-35 victory at Limestone.

The Eagles are listed fifth in this week's NCAA II Super Region 2 rankings and a victory in the "Battle for 11E" would send Carson-Newman to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

But Carson-Newman has dropped two of its last three results against Tusculum, both coming in Greeneville.

The Eagle offense continues to pack quite a wallop scoring 39.4 points per game (2nd in SAC/15th in NCAA II) and rushing for 314.8 yards per game (1st in SAC/4th in NCAA II).  The Eagles lead the SAC in third down offense converting 53 percent which is fifth-best in the land.

Senior All-American running back Antonio Wimbush will be playing in his final regular season game this weekend.  He has rushed for 741 yards this year for an 82.3 yards per game average which is second in the SAC and 50th in the country. His seven yards per carry average is best in the league and 14th in DII and has rushed for nine touchdowns.  Three of those TDs came last week against Limestone, including his three-yard TD run with 19 seconds remaining for the winning score.

Wimbush, who missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury, has rushed for 3,621 yards and 39 touchdowns in his storied career, which ranks him sixth amongst active NCAA II rushers.

Two-time All-SAC quarterback Derrick Evans has guided the C-N offense once again this year where he has rushed for 646 yards (71.8 ypg - 6th in SAC) and eight touchdowns.  He has passed for 810 yards with eight TDs (3rd in SAC) and only three interceptions in his 86 pass attempts.  But he did not play last week at Limestone.

Junior Tyler Thackerson started at QB for the Eagles at Limestone where he rushed to 60 yards on 15 carries and passed for 145 yards with a TD and an interception.

Freshman Troy Dendy is third on the roster rushing for 556 yards (61.8 ypg - 8th in SAC) and five touchdowns (8th in SAC).  Last week, he ran for a season-best 200 yards on 23 carries, including a 62-yard TD as C-N jumped out to a 24-0 lead at Limestone.

Braxton Westfield leads the Eagles in receiving with his 23 catches for 431 yards and seven touchdowns.  Romain Kelly is second with 13 grabs for 273 yards and one TD.

The C-N defense has posted some impressive numbers this year as well as the Eagles have forced a SAC-most 22 turnovers by the opposition (24th in NCAA II) including a league-high 18 interceptions (3rd in NCAA II).

The Eagles are allowing 21.7 points per game (3rd in SAC / 46th in NCAA II) and its red zone offense rate of 92 percent is tops in the SAC and sixth in the country.

Senior cornerback Desmond Fairell leads the C-N defense with a SAC-most seven interceptions (10th in SAC) and is second in the league, behind TU's Dee Alford, with 18 passes defended (5th in NCAA II). Fairell has also made 33 tackles including 3.0 for loss and forced a fumble.

Junior linebacker Rondrow Peebles is Carson-Newman's top tackler with 71 total stops including 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks. He has also been credited with an interception and two pass break-ups.

Senior strong safety Darius Williams is second on the team with 65 tackles, including 7.5 for loss with a sack, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.  C-N's Damarkus Jones has tallied 53 tackles with two interceptions while Ray Artybridge has three interceptions to his ledger.

The Eagles have one of the top kickers in the conference in freshman kicker Nate Craft who has been handling both placekicking and punting.  Craft has made all 44 of his extra-point tries and has gone 9-of-14 in field goals for his 71 points. He has connected on five field goals of 40 or longer including a season-long 50-yarder two week ago at Mars Hill.

Craft is averaging 42.3 yards per punt on just 26 attempts this year with a long of 57 yards.

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 with the pregame show beginning at 12 p.m.

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