The Lenoir-Rhyne football team has become known for its fast starts in 2019, and that was the case once again on Saturday afternoon. The Bears scored points on their opening drive for the sixth time in seven games and led throughout in a 36-23 win over Carson-Newman at Moretz Stadium.
“It’s big because Carson-Newman’s a team that’s probably a little better when they start fast with the way they run the ball,” L-R coach Drew Cronic said. “They’re throwing the football pretty good this year, but to have a good start and get them behind the eight-ball early, obviously that was a good start to the game. It was a whole lot better than the way it started last year (L-R fell behind 21-7 in the second quarter in 2018 before scoring 33 unanswered points in a 40-21 victory).”
After the Eagles (4-2, 2-2 South Atlantic Conference) went three-and-out to open the game, L-R’s offense went right to work. On the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, Jaquay Mitchell bolted 65 yards to the Carson-Newman 1-yard line. Then, after being stuffed at the line on his first carry, Ameen Stevens found the end zone on second-and-goal to put the hosts up 7-0 less than two minutes in.
The Bears (7-0, 5-0) again forced Carson-Newman to punt, this time from their own end zone. A fumbled snap by the Eagles resulted in a safety and a 9-0 L-R lead at the 10:27 mark of the first quarter. The Bears added a TD later in the quarter on 1-yard run from quarterback Grayson Willingham that capped a six-play, 35-yard drive and made it 16-0 entering the second.
The Eagles possessed the ball for most of the second quarter, with their first score coming on a 25-yard TD scamper from Derrick Evans with 13:43 remaining in the opening half. They got the ball back following an interception and embarked on a 20-play, 88-yard drive that lasted over 11 minutes and ended with Evans scoring again, this time from 3 yards out. With 1:29 left in the second period, the Eagles trailed by just two at 16-14.
Momentum swung back to the Bears right before the half, as they answered with their third TD of the afternoon just over a minute later. Willingham hooked up with Demarius Hampton for a 26-yard TD pass that extended their lead to 23-14 at the intermission.
“It was huge momentum-wise because they had closed it to two points and our kids just went right down the field and made plays,” said Cronic of the Bears’ score late in the first half. “That may have been the difference in the game.”
Carson-Newman hung around in the second half, as a 49-yard field goal from Nate Craft midway through the third quarter cut the deficit to six at 23-17. L-R’s Chase Allbaugh responded with a 43-yard field goal of his own with less than two minutes to play in the third, while a Clayton Horn fumble recovery set up Stevens’ 7-yard TD burst to make it 33-17 in favor of the Bears early in the fourth.
The Eagles pulled within 10 on a 25-yard TD pass from Evans to Braxton Westfield with 7:16 to play, but the ensuing 2-point conversion run was snuffed out. Carson-Newman attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by L-R’s Drake Starks.
From there, the Bears worked on the clock, holding the ball for over six minutes before scoring on a 24-yard field goal from Allbaugh that accounted for the game’s final tally with 1:01 remaining.
“We had two turnovers, they had three, but they had some timely turnovers that helped us to score points offensively,” said Cronic. “It was just a great day because that’s a good football team we just beat.”
Stevens carried 18 times for 79 yards and two scores to lead the Bears, while Mitchell added four carries for 72 yards. Willingham completed 10 of 14 passes for 100 yards and a TD, but was picked off twice. L-R’s defense had three takeaways including the fumble recovery by Horn and fumble recoveries by Dan Louba and Zeke Nance. Eric Jackson, Jaquan Artis and Sherrod Williams forced the fumbles for the Bears.
The Eagles’ Antonio Wimbush led all rushers with 87 yards on 11 carries, while Evans completed 14 of 21 passes for 139 yards and a TD to go with 18 carries for 59 yards and two more scores. Westfield caught nine passes for 99 yards and a TD, with Darius Williams and Desmond Fairell notching Carson-Newman’s interceptions on defense.
“Our defense is good. Up front we are physical and athletic, and our defensive staff is doing a great job coaching them,” said Cronic. “They are very talented at wide receiver and they hit us on some short throws a lot and we kind of gave that to them a little bit. I thought that was the right thing to do is to make them drive and make them have to go all the way down the field.”
The eighth-ranked Bears visit Limestone at 4 p.m. next Saturday before returning home to face No. 13 Wingate on Nov. 2 in a contest that will be televised on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN App. That game is set for a 2 p.m. kickoff.