BOWIE, Md. (CN Athletics) – No. 24 Carson-Newman (9-2) held 11th-ranked Bowie State (11-1) to its lowest point total of the season and bounced the CIAA Champs from the NCAA playoffs with a 17-9 win Saturday afternoon at Bulldogs Stadium.
Carson-Newman advances to take on Lenoir-Rhyne the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Moretz Stadium.
The Eagles halted Bowie State's 11-game winning streak overall and its nine-game winning streak at home. Meanwhile, Carson-Newman pumped the breaks on a four-game road playoff losing streak, and a four-game road losing streak to ranked teams.
Bowie State is the highest ranked team has beaten since the Eagles knocked No. 5 North Alabama out of the playoffs on Nov. 28, 2009, 24-21. That contest represents one of now three road playoff victories for Carson-Newman since moving to Division II.
"This game was like we thought it was going to be," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "Bowie State has a good football team and they're well-coached. They have great athletes on both sides of the ball and the kicking game. It was a battle from the get-go and we made some mistakes early. But I appreciate these guys overcoming the head coach's mistakes. I appreciate them hanging in there until we could get it corrected. Our kids played with great heart."
Carson-Newman's defense turned in a performance for the ages. Bowie State cracked the redzone five times and didn't score a single point off those five trips. The Bulldogs had been averaging 43 points per game, but were held to nine.
C-N produced a goal line stand at the one, Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) blocked a field goal and Ja'Quan Smith (Greenville, Ala.) seized an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter to preserve and protect C-N's lead.
Along the way, Carson-Newman sacked CIAA offensive player off the year Ja'Rome Johnson five times.
"Those kids on offense over there are very talented young men," Turner said. "They can make a big play at any time. Our defensive staff and kids on defense worked hard and tried to keep him (Johnson) corralled. We didn't turn the ball over. That was the key. We didn't put our defense in the hole and made them (Bowie State) work hard for what they got. It was a great football game between two teams that were very talented with kids with great heart. We were fortunate to win it."
Linebackers Daniel Dixon-Brooks (Greenville, S.C.) and Rondrow Peebles (Knoxville, Tenn.) powered C-N's defense with 10 tackles and eight tackles respectively. Dixon-Brooks collected a sack and a tackle for loss, while Peebles piled up a pair of sacks and 3.5 stops behind the line.
Johnson did damage both with his legs and with his arm, but the end zone eluded the UVa-Wise transfer. Johnson carried the ball 22 times for 98 yards, but lost 54 yards to sacks or negative plays. Through the air he was 16-for-34 for 263 yards. However, it was either feast or famine through the air. Johnson had two passes picked, but also completed six passes for at least 30 yards
"We knew coming in here that trying to keep with a quarterback that could rush the football and scramble with it was going to be problem. He's a great athlete and very effective. We finally found a way to tackle him a few times. On defense, those guys (Bowie State) have got great movement and great coverage players. We found a way to keep working."
Johnson also powered his way to a trio of runs longer than 20 yards. Johnson produced more 20-yard plays (nine) than Carson-Newman had allowed the last three weeks combined.
"We put a spy on him (in the second half) and filled our gaps on blitzes," Peebles said. "He's very slippery and can get out of anything. We just had to trust in the process. When the offense came to the sidelines, they told us to keep believing in them. Coach has been telling us all week to focus. We knew the type of environment we were coming into and that focus would be key. We can't get caught up in all the other things that don't matter. We control what we can control and have the offense's back in every single drive. That's exactly what happened."
Bowie State became the first team this year to tally more than 400 yards of total offense against Carson-Newman's defense. However, the Eagles became the first team to hold Bowie State under 20 points.
While the defense ground down the Bulldogs, Carson-Newman's offense put its trust in senior running back Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.). The All-America candidate powered his way to 143 yards on 18 carries and a score.
Wimbush also caught a 62-yard screen pass.
"It was just trusting in the line," Wimbush said. "They do a great job every week. Our defense gave us the opportunities and I'm very grateful for that. I'm looking forward to next week.
We knew we played a sloppy game, but the defense gave us a chance and put the ball in our hands. To get a win is definitely a blessing. We want to celebrate this win and take it day by day."
Carson-Newman struck first to grab the opening lead on its third possession.
Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) dialed up a 63-yard touchdown connection to Braxton Westfield (Simpsonville, S.C.) along the right sideline. Westfield burned All-CIAA corner Tevin Singleton to run under the ball and scamper the final 30 yards to the house to give C-N a 7-0 lead with 10:31 to play in the first quarter.
"We knew they were press-bailing so we took advantage of it," Westfield said. "We knew that I could press his toes and get outside of him and just beat him with speed. I trusted that Thack would put the ball in the right spot and he did. The rest is history."
Bowie State countered immediately. QB Ja'Rome Johnson navigated the Bulldogs on an eight-play, 93-yard possession that took 2:42 off the clock. Johnson dialed up tight end DuShon David for a 33-yard score over the numbers left side to tie the game with 7:43 to play in the first quarter.
After C-N turned it over on downs at the Bowie State 48 on the ensuing drive, the Bulldogs navigated down to the one yard line. However, Montel Presley (Bushnel, Fla.) and Daniel Dixon-Brooks (Greenville, S.C.) stood up Calil Wilkins at the goal line to force a turnover on downs.
However, C-N couldn't navigate out from the shadow of their own end zone, three plays later, Thackerson was sacked in the end zone for a safety that gave Bowie State a 9-7 lead with 1:32 to play in the first quarter. Jonathan Ross, the CIAA freshman of the year had the sack for the safety.
The second quarter was defined by missed opportunities for both teams. Jamarion McDonald (Palmetto, Fla.) set the Eagles up in Bowie State territory with a pick.
The Eagles' drive stalled out at the 35, and Nate Craft's (Salem, Va.) 52-yard field goal try was pushed just wide left.
Bowie State would navigate down the field looking to extend the two-point lead, but Gene Carson's 33-yard kick sliced wide left to round out the scoring chances in the first half.
The Bulldogs took the kickoff to open the second half, but went three-and-out.
C-N took the football and moseyed down the field on a 14-play, 51-yard drive that stalled out at the Bowie State 30. Nate Craft (Salem, Va.) powered a 47-yard field goal through the uprights to give C-N a 10-9 lead with 6:03 to play in the third.
Bowie State would counter with a seven-play, 48-yard drive. The Bulldogs got all the way down to the Eagle 13 before a false start and a sack by Peebles halted the drive and backed the Bulldogs up to the 27. Carson came on for a 44-yard try, but Fairell shot into the backfield to block the kick and preserve the lead.
Carson-Newman took over at the 10 and got on the march. Facing a third-and-four, C-N dialed up a throwback screen to Wimbush. With three blockers in front of him, Wimbush motored down to the Bulldog 22. Four plays later, Wimbush found the ball back in his hands. He took a dive 10 yards up the gut to the house to stretch C-N's advantage to 17-9 and set the final with 13:28 to play in the fourth quarter.
Bowie State still had chances to strike into the Eagles' advantage, with two drives that cracked C-N's red zone. The Bulldogs moved the ball down to the C-N 10. However, Nick Owens (New Market, Ala.) tallied a TFL, Bernard Scott (Hollywood, Fla.) and then Johnson threw behind his receiver to turn the ball over on fourth down with a shade over six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
C-N gave the ball back to Bowie State with 4:52 to play at the Bulldogs 38. Johnson rattled off a 35-yard rush to get down to the C-N six. Three plays later, Smith leapt in front of a slant rout to pick off Johnson for the second time and sealed the game for C-N.
"We were at a point a few weeks ago where we had a tough loss at Lenoir-Rhyne," Turner said. "We talked in that locker room that if we believe hard enough and work hard enough we can get ourselves to the playoffs. And that came true. We did the same thing in this game. This is the 26th time that Carson-Newman has been in the playoffs, but the first time for these kids. Just to see them battle back and keep the faith and keep going, I'm just real excited for them."
Wimbush crested the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the contest. He is the sixth player in program history with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, joining Kenneth Tyson, Robert Thomas, Brandon Baker, Tyron Westmoreland and Nate Inman.
Troy Dendy (Laurens, S.C.) followed Wimbush's 143-yard day with a 12-rush, 64-yard performance.
Tyler Thackerson (Clinton, Tenn.) completed 3-of-5 passes for 137 yards.
David led Bowie State's receiving corps with five catches for 77 yards.
While Johnson led Bowie State's rushing attack with 98 yards. However, BSU running backs only accounted for 34 of the Bulldogs 147 yards on the ground.
Jauntez McRae led BSU's defense with eight tackles. Jordan Carter and CIAA Defensive Player of the year Joshua Pryor each had seven stops.
Bowie State outgained C-N 410-363. It marks the second time this year that C-N has been outgained by more than 40 yards and managed to pull off a win. C-N hadn't done so in the previous 15 years.
Carson-Newman gained 226 yards on the ground on 51 carries.
The Eagles continue on in the playoffs next week at Lenoir-Rhyne. Kickoff with the Bears on Nov. 30. Kickoff is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. Coverage will begin on the Eagle Sports Network one hour prior to kick with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) and online at cneagles.com/live.