Neither the Miles College defense nor the rain could stop the Lenoir-Rhyne football team on Saturday afternoon, as the Bears improved to 12-0 for the first time in school history with a 36-7 victory over the visiting Golden Bears in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at Moretz Stadium.
Despite turning the ball over a season-high four times — including three red-zone giveaways — second-seeded L-R outgained seventh-seeded Miles 382-125 including a 323-92 advantage on the ground. The Bears also held a 24-7 edge in first downs.
Ameen Stevens led L-R with 18 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Jaquay Mitchell added 13 carries for 78 yards and a score. Eight other players also received carries for the Bears to help make up for a passing attack that only tallied six completions for 59 yards and a TD.
“It’s a great day. It was a wet day, but it was a lot of fun to get out there and compete against a quality opponent,” L-R head coach Drew Cronic said. “I want to congratulate Miles College, Coach (Reginald) Ruffin for a great season.
“They are a good football team. I thought they were an outstanding defense,” he added. “They’ve not been giving up many yards all season, not been giving up many points, and we were able to rush for 323 yards today. That’s pretty good against a really, really good defensive front.”
After Miles (9-3) went three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, L-R drove 43 yards in three plays for its first score. Mitchell crossed the goal line from 21 yards out and Chase Allbaugh added the extra point to put the hosts up 7-0 less than two minutes in.
Later in the first quarter, the Bears’ special teams got into the action. After forcing Miles to punt again from deep inside its own territory, Amarrian Brown blocked a punt attempt by Jay Fitch and L-R’s Tre Luttrell fell on it in the end zone for the second TD of the afternoon.
L-R added to its lead in the second quarter thanks to a 6-yard TD pass from Grayson Willingham to Josh Ramseur, a tackle for a safety by Trevis Robinson and a 22-yard field goal from Allbaugh to make it 26-0 at the half. However, Miles finally found the scoreboard at the 9:36 mark of the third quarter when Donte Edwards registered a 38-yard TD run following a fumble recovery by the Golden Bears’ Maxel Wells.
It was all L-R from there, as the Bears scored twice in the fourth quarter. Following a 42-yard field goal from Allbaugh with 14:04 to play, Ameen Stevens capped his stellar day with a 17-yard TD scamper with 10:36 remaining.
“I’d like to see us punch the ball in a little bit more offensively when we get down inside the 10-yard line, but once again, I knew that they would be a big challenge because they’re so good up front,” said Cronic. “… I’m really proud of our football team. I think we took a step forward today.”
Edwards had 80 yards and Miles’ only score on 15 carries, while Leonard Tyree caught three passes for 24 yards. But the Golden Bears were only 5-for-19 passing for 33 yards as a team, as L-R won the field position battle all day and held them to just 3 of 15 on third-down conversions.
“Defensively, we were outstanding today and we’re pretty good against the run for the most part all season,” said Cronic. “I thought we shut down what we needed to shut down and put them in situations where they had to throw the football. That’s probably not exactly their strong suit. They don’t throw it bad, but I think we made them uncomfortable and then we were able to create some advantageous situations.”
L-R will host fellow South Atlantic Conference member Carson-Newman (9-2) in the second round next Saturday after the Eagles upset third-seeded Bowie State 17-9 in the first round. The Bears defeated Carson-Newman 36-23 at home on Oct. 19.