JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (0-2, 0-1 South Atlantic Conference) put together a stout defensive performance that put the Eagles in position to score an upset over No. 16/15 Wingate (3-0, 1-0 SAC).
However, the Eagles sputtered offensively and made miscues in special teams to doom C-N to a 25-3 loss to the Bulldogs Saturday at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
“I was really excited about the way our defense played,” Carson-Newman head coach Mike Clowney said. “Our guys did a really good job of growing from last week. Our defense was put in a lot of tough situations. They provided effort that gave us a chance to win the game.”
The Eagles held the Bulldogs below all their offensive averages, holding the Bulldogs to 16 first downs, 369 yards of offense and just 3.4 yards per carry.
Reigning SAC Offensive Player of the Week Nijere Peoples only gained 20 yards on 14 carries for 1.4 yards per touch. Meanwhile, the Eagles flummoxed Wingate quarterback Shaw Crocker into a 16-of-28 day aerially. Crocker entered the contest second in the country in completion percentage.
Preseason All-American Rondrow Peebles (Knoxville, Tenn.) turned in a 12-tackle performance with 1.5 tackles for loss. It was a part of a seven tackle-for-loss day for the Eagles’ defense. Caleb Goins (Bristol, Va.) also made two stops behind the line of scrimmage, a career high.
“Rondrow came on and was a leader today,” Clowney said. “It was interesting to hear what he had to say in the locker room. He said, ‘Being young isn’t an excuse; we have to grow up and move forward.’ It was interesting him say it. It was better to see him show it on the field.”
Part of Carson-Newman’s defensive noteworthiness was its escapability from positions it was placed in. The Bulldogs started four drives in Carson-Newman territory. The Bulldogs average starting field position was their own 38. A figure that was their own 48 prior to the final two drives of the game which started at the 25 and 13 of Wingate territory.
Meanwhile, the Eagles offense stagnated. Aside from a 38-yard gain on a broken play by Troy Dendy (Laurens, S.C.), Carson-Newman could only muster 137 yards of offense. Take out the play by Dendy, and the Eagles finish with 99 yards of offense.
The Carson-Newman offense sputtered in fits and starts, much like the game as a whole, which was lengthened by a 96-minute lightning delay.
“We continue to try to develop experience,” Clowney said. “We made mistakes that put us in tough situations. Even having a chance to go in and score, we weren’t able to find our flow offensively. We’ve got guys we want to get the ball to. We have to be able to run the ball to set up the pass to be able to take it back inside. We have to flow better offensively.”
The first half was marked by Wingate taking advantage of short fields to score field goals and Carson-Newman’s defense stiffening on the goal line.
After the teams traded three and outs on their first two possessions, the Bulldogs moved the ball down to the one after returning a punt to the C-N 45. McLean Robertson booted through a 21 yard try to cap an 11-play, 41-yard drive.
Wingate would take advantage of an average starting field position of the C-N 24. Robertson was true from 40, 38 and 18 yards to set the halftime margin at 12-3 Bulldogs.
The Eagles did manage to put together one strong possession in the second half, driving 56 yards on nine plays before a drive stalled out on downs at the Bulldog 19. The plays were the first through 11 quarters that Wingate had allowed inside their red zone.
Outside of that possession, C-N went three-and-out four times after halftime and had another drive stall out after six plays and 39 yards at the Wingate 36. That possession ended in a Erwin 53-yard missed field goal.
The Bulldogs tallied two second-half scores, both of which took advantage of short fields off solid punt returns. RJ Mobely hauled in a 40-yard pass on a broken play to cap a five-play, 53-yard drive with six minutes to play in the third before Peoples finished the scoring with a fouir yard run with 9:39 to play in the game. That drive covered four plays and 35 yards.
Carson-Newman failed to score an offensive touchdown in a home game for the first time since 2005 and a 37-3 loss to Presbyterian. The Eagles are 0-2 for the first time since 2009. That year’s team would go on to make an appearance in the NCAA semifinals.
Micah Young (Byrnes, S.C.) helmed the offense in his first career start under center. Young completed 7-of-12 passes for 43 yards.
Dendy led the Eagles on the ground with 64 yards on nine carries.
Carson-Newman returns to the field Saturday at UVA Wise. Kickoff with the Highland Cavaliers is set for noon. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network gets underway at 11 a.m. with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Sports 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.