Nov. 28, 2009

By Jeff McIntyre
Special to NCAA.com

FLORENCE, Ala. - Buck Wakefield remembers driving around in his car listening to the game on the radio as North Alabama defeated his Carson-Newman Eagles 31-14 in the second week of the season.

Wakefield, Carson-Newman’s standout running back, was still recovering from a fractured leg and was unable to make the trip. He finally returned in the fourth week of the season to help the Eagles win out and make the Division II football playoffs.

“It was hurting me so bad not being able to play,” Wakefield said. “It made me even more determined to get back and play. I considered redshirting, but I had been with these guys so long that I had to get back. I’m glad I did.”

The Eagles are certainly happy that Wakefield was able to come back strong and play in Saturday’s rematch against UNA in the Division II quarterfinals. The senior proved to be the difference this time as Carson-Newman advanced to the semifinals with a 24-21 victory over the Lions at Braly Stadium.

Wakefield rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles (11-2). His 80-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter sealed the win.

After missing the first game against the Lions, Wakefield said he definitely had something to prove in the rematch.

“My teammates were looking for me to be a difference-maker and I was looking forward to them doing what they do,” Wakefield said. “I love those guys so much, so I had to come out and try to be that difference-maker. Our coaches came up with a great plan and we were able to execute and make the plays we needed to make.”

It didn’t take long for Wakefield to make his presence felt. Carson-Newman got the ball after intercepting a UNA pass and Wakefield scored on a 25-yard burst up the middle to give the Eagles an early 7-0 lead.

“Wakefield is a great player,” UNA linebacker Michael Johnson said. “He’s very quick and does a good job hitting the seams. When he gets a gap he does a great job making guys miss and then outrunning the pursuit.”

Carson-Newman led 10-7 late in the first half when the Eagles drove into UNA territory. Wakefield took a short pass from Alex Good and made two defenders miss. But as Wakefield moved close to the goal line the ball came loose and rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by UNA.

“I was hurting after that, because I never fumble,” he said. “That was probably my second fumble of the year. I just knew that somehow I had to make it up.”

Wakefield more than atoned for the fumble early in the fourth quarter. The Eagles led 17-14 and had just got the ball back at their 20 after forcing a UNA punt. 

On the next play, Wakefield took the handoff and found a huge hole up the middle. He made a cut to the left, picked up a block just past midfield and outran the pursuit for an 80-yard touchdown run that extended Carson-Newman’s lead to 24-14.

“My offensive line crushed them and I got break blocking down field,” he said. “It was wide open. I just made one cut and I was gone.”

Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks said there was no doubt that Wakefield’s presence in the backfield was a huge difference in the rematch.

“We play with much more confidence when Buck is in there,” Sparks said. “He just makes so many things happen. Our guys really look to him to make plays and he makes our blocking schemes better. It was huge for us to have him today.”

Getting that elusive win against UNA was huge for Carson-Newman. Wakefield, however, said the Eagles are not satisfied just to get past the Lions.

“We’ve got a great team and we have great chemistry,” Wakefield said. “We’re determined to keep it going and win a championship.”