Carson-Newman Stuns North Alabama, 24-21
Nov. 28, 2009
By Gregg Dewalt
Special to NCAA.com
FLORENCE, Ala. - A buck helped make sure Carson-Newman's losing streak at Braly Municipal Stadium came to a screeching stop Saturday afternoon.
Buck Wakefield, Carson-Newman's leading rusher, who missed an early game with North Alabama because of an injury, more than made up for it in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals on a sun-splashed Alabama afternoon, rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 24-21 upset of the hometown Lions. Carson-Newman advances to the semifinals where it will face Grand Valley State.
Combined with a defensive effort that forced three turnovers and limited North Alabama to a season-low 277 yards, Wakefield and the Eagles exorcised several demons in the process.
Longtime coach Ken Sparks and the Eagles (11-2) had never won a game inside the Florence city limits in eight visits to the area known as the Shoals. Five of those losses were against the Lions (11-2), with the other three coming in DII national championship games to other teams. Also, it was only the second time in 10 tries Sparks and the Eagles came away with a win against North Alabama.
On Saturday, none of that seemed to matter as Carson-Newman nearly dominated from the start, though it fell behind briefly in the third quarter and then regained control behind a rushing attack that finished with 260 yards. Included in that total was an 80-yard dash by Wakefield that turned a precarious 17-14 lead into a 24-14 advantage that virtually sealed the win with just less than 10 minutes to play.
"We didn't talk about it," Carson-Newman quarterback Alex Good said of ending the dubious streak.
"We didn't pay any attention to it," Sparks said. "Our football team just refused to lose today."
It was evident from the outset that Carson-Newman was a different team than the one that lost, 31-14, in the second week of the season on the same field. In that game, UNA was opportunistic on defense, creating four turnovers and quarterback Harrison Beck threw a pair of touchdown passes. In the quarterfinals, Beck never found a rhythm in the passing game and Carson-Newman limited the Lions to -4 rushing yards, their lowest total since a 1987 loss to West Georgia.
Carson-Newman picked off three Beck passes to help offset a late TD throw by the North Carolina State transfer.
"We took the load and put it on our back," linebacker Brian Brown said. "We were trying to stop everything."
The Eagles certainly did that for most of the day. Beck finished with 281 passing yards, but 149 of those came in the fourth quarter. Another 48 came on a third-quarter screen pass to Tim Hicks.
Sparks said pressuring Beck was a key to the defensive effort.
"Putting pressure on their thrower was very important," Sparks said. "Sometimes we were able to do it with a four-man rush."
First-year North Alabama coach Terry Bowden said it was almost like a perfect storm hitting the Lions.
"Carson-Newman brought great intensity to the game," he said. "They played better on both sides of the ball and deserved to win. They made some nice adjustments from the last time and they did a better job making them than we did reacting to them. Offensively, we were not on today."
It turned out to be the recipe for a Carson-Newman win.
Carson-Newman turned two Beck interceptions into 14 points. His other interception at the goal line cost the Lions at least three points and possibly a touchdown.
D.J. Taylor's interception in the first quarter set up Carson-Newman's first score -- a 25-yard run by Wakefield went 25 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Carlos Lopez capped a 13-play, 65-yard drive with a 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 3:51 to play in the opening quarter.
UNA managed only one first down in the first quarter and Brown's interception at the goal line stopped the Lions' best threat in the second quarter.
Carson-Newman's first turnover -- a 41-yard interception return by Svante Davenport -- set up Marcus Sims' 2-yard touchdown run with 9:21 to play in the second quarter as UNA trimmed the lead to 10-7.
The Lions opened the second half with a two-play, 65-yard scoring drive to take a 14-10 lead. Tim Hicks scored on an 8-yard run after grabbing a screen pass and racing 48 yards for the Lions' biggest play of the game to that point. A personal foul penalty moved the ball to the 8 and Hicks went in for the score on the next play.
Carson-Newman took the lead for good when Nate Inman scored on a 1-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter.
Five minutes later, Wakefield scooted 80 yards for the game-clinching score to help atone for a second-quarter fumble that resulted in a touchback as he fought to get into the end zone.
"After the fumble, I just told myself that I had to do something," Wakefield said. "I was trying my hardest. It was a great day. We fought hard."
Beck's 37-yard TD pass with 1:31 to play cut the lead to 24-21, but the Lions were flagged for a penalty on the onsides kick and Carson-Newman ran out the clock for the programs historic first win in Braly Municipal Stadium.