Turnovers costly as Carson-Newman falls in season opener 24-21

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (SUBMITTED) -- The ninth-ranked Carson-Newman football team was able to match Winona State yard for yard on Saturday, but the Warriors won the turnover battle on their way to a 24-21 victory over the Eagles in the season opener for both teams at Burke-Tarr Stadium.

C-N (0-1) outgained Winona State 366-359 in total offense but it turned the ball over three times, including twice inside the Warriors’ 25-yard-line. Eagles head coach Ken Sparks said his team didn’t have a chance to put it all together on offense because of the turnovers.

“We really shot ourselves in the foot in so many ways,” said Sparks, whose team has lost two straight season openers to the Warriors. “We seemed to turn the ball over when we were gaining momentum. Every time we would get an edge, we’d give up a kickoff return or we’d fumble the football. We never could get things rolling. We kept letting (Winona State) get up off the mat, and they did a good job. You have to give them credit.”

Senior quarterback Doug Belk (Valdosta, Ga.) led the Eagles attack, completing 7-of-22 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 81 yards and a score. Belk’s 71-yard touchdown run on a keeper up the middle of the Warriors’ defense at the 12:10 mark of the second quarter gave C-N an early 7-3 lead.

“He has the option anytime he wants to take a quarterback sneak,” Sparks said of Belk’s touchdown run. “He did a great job of breaking the line of scrimmage and outrunning the safeties.”

Junior running back Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) added 65 yards on the ground and a touchdown for the Eagles.

C-N freshman receiver Jason Brown (Plant City, Fla.) hauled in three passes on the day for 48 yards and a score, while Patrick Miller (Sevierville, Tenn.) had two receptions for 67 yards.

Winona State quarterback Evan Aber looked sharp in his first career start as he completed 19-of-36 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Warriors’ junior receiver Eric Swan grabbed four of those passes for 109 yards.

Rayon Simmons rushed for 85 yards to lead the Warriors, and Curtis Dewberry netted 59 yards on 12 carries and had one touchdown.

Senior safety Mario Russell (Columbus, Ohio) tallied 14 tackles and two pass breakups to lead the Eagle defense, while senior linebacker Anthony McAlister (Knoxville, Tenn.) recorded 13 tackles.

Winona State opened the contest with a lengthy 16-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped off by a 24-yard field goal by Thomas Kinney.

After stalling on their first two drives, the Eagles found the end zone in the second quarter on Belk’s 70-yard touchdown run to take a 7-3 lead.

C-N marched 75-yards in 10 plays on its next possession to take a 14-3 lead on an 18-yard scoring strike from Belk to Brown with 4:42 left in the half.

Winona State answered before the half as Dewberry returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yards to the C-N 21, setting up an 11-yard scoring strike from Aber to Erik Steine four plays later to pull to within 14-10 at the break.

The Warriors regained the lead in the third quarter with a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive, as Aber finished it off with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Melcher.

C-N bounced back to take the lead in the fourth. Miller hauled in a 60-yard pass from Belk over a Winona State defender to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Inman with 13 minutes left in the contest, but the Warriors took the lead for good on the very next possession on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dewberry.

The Eagles have just five days to prepare for their next opponent as they are set to face Bentley on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Burke-Toney Stadium. C-N defeated Bentley 59-18 in 2008.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to grow from our first game to our second game,” Sparks said. “We better do it in a hurry because we’ve only got five days to do it.”

Courtesy: Carson-Newman sports information

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