JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The South Atlantic Conference has named Carson-Newman football's string of three national title appearances in four years and Ken Sparks 300th career victory as the fourth and third best moments, respectively, in the league's 20-year history.
The SAC selected the women's soccer team's back-to-back final four appearances in 2004 and 2005 as the 10th best moment.
The Eagles are the only program in the league with three top 10 moments.
Mars Hill's Jonas Randolph took the top moment with his Harlon Hill Trophy in 2011.
Eagles advance to three national title games in four years (1996-99)
In arguably the most dominant stretch of any SAC football team in league history, Carson-Newman advanced to the national title game of the NCAA Division II Football Championship three times in four years from 1996 through 1999, amassing 48 wins in the process.
After reaching the playoffs in the SAC's first three years of Division II eligibility, Carson-Newman broke through to the title game in 1996 before falling to Northern Colorado, 23-14. Following an elimination in the national semifinal round in 1997, the Eagles reached the tile game again in 1998 and 1999.
Carson-Newman lost both the 1998 and 1999 finals to Northwest Missouri St. - the first year by a score of 24-6, then in a four-overtime 58-52 thriller the following season. C-N is the only school in the conference ever to reach the NCAA national title game.
The Eagles lost just one SAC game and produced a total of 52 All-Conference selections during the four-year stretch.
Carson-Newman played for the 1996 title game thanks to "The Drive" and the "Miracle at Mossy Creek" in a 29-26 come-from-behind win over UC Davis. The 1996 title game would be the eighth national championship game in school history, Carson-Newman's charmed run through the playoffs came to an abrupt end with a 23-16 loss to the University of Northern Colorado in front of a national television audience on ESPN2.
The Eagles got touchdown runs of one and 57 yards from their leading rusher Tyrone Westmoreland, who finished the day with 99 yards on 13 carries.
In the 1998 title game, Florence, Ala. was besieged by over a foot of rain in the week leading up to the game and both teams had to fight the mud and the muck. Carson-Newman scored the first points of the game when Leonard Guyton connected with Jarvonni Jackson for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
However, the Bearcats scored 17 points in the second quarter and added another score in the third frame to win their first national title. Melvin Oates rushed for 56 yards and Heath Hawkins added 35 yards. Ques Rumph racked up 48 receiving yards and quarterback Leonard Guyton amassed 106 yards. Matthew Burris led the Eagles with 10 tackles.
In 1999, the Eagles played in what some have called the college football "Game of the Century." Carson-Newman and Bearcats of Northwest Missouri State battled through four quarters and four overtimes before NWMS won 58-52.
Over 2,500 Carson-Newman fans made the trip to Alabama to witness the thriller. After the Bearcats took an early 7-0 lead, the Eagles reeled off 24 unanswered points starting with Ryan Fleming's 38-yard field goal. Ques Rumph put C-N up 10-7 when he electrified the crowd with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Melvin Oates ran in from one yard out and Myron Refoure scored on a 20-yard scamper to give the Eagles a 24-7 lead at the half.
The two teams battled back and forth through the third and fourth quarters until C-N took a 44-29 lead on Antwon Oliver's 12-yard run with three and a half minutes remaining in the game. The Bearcats kept clawing and sent the game into overtime with a 34- yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds to go.
The Eagles and Bearcats' defenses were impressive in the extra frame as neither team could score. C-N struck first in the third overtime as Oliver scored on a one-yard touchdown. Leonard Guyton's keeper on the two-point conversion was good and the Eagles led 52-44. After NWMS had tied the game at 52-52, the Bearcats took a 58-52 lead in the fourth overtime.
The Eagles were driving for another score but the ball squirted out and Northwest jumped on it to win the game, 58-52.
The Eagle offense was almost unstoppable as they compiled 419 yards on the ground, led by Oliver's 194 yards and two touchdowns. Carson-Newman's defense held the Bearcats to only 137 yards
Ken Sparks records 300th-career win (Aug. 30, 2012)
In the season-opener of his 33rd year on the Carson-Newman sidelines, Ken Sparks became just the 11th coach in college football history to reach 300 career wins as the Eagles outlasted Glenville St., 56-46. The milestone came just two months after Sparks had been diagnosed and begun treatment for prostate cancer.
Sparks was inducted to the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame coaches class in 2010, and is also a member of the SAC Hall of Fame, the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, the Carson-Newman Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame. He has been named SAC Coach of the Year 12 times.
In the win over Glenville State, Carson-Newman churned up 474 yards on the ground and held off a late Pioneer rally.
While the win was meaningful to Sparks, he said there is more to life than football.
"I'm just grateful to be associated with Carson-Newman and all these kids and coaches." the then 68-year-old Sparks said. "They're the ones who've invested their heart and their lives and given so much to be apart of this over the years.
"I'm still a nobody, but I'm still trying to honor the Lord with what we are trying to do – I'm just grateful to be a small part of it."
Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) led the charge on the ground with three touchdowns and 205 yards rushing on 18 carries. Baker found the end zone from 60, 2 and 31 yards out.
C-N took a 35-14 lead into the locker room, but Glenville State would score on its first five possessions of the second half to close within three – scoring 26 unanswered.
However, the Eagles burned clock in the fourth quarter, possessing the football for more than 10 minutes.
Carson-Newman kept the football for 6:19 on a drive that ended in a turnover-on-downs and then 3:05 on a possession that ended in a Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.) six-yard touchdown plunge up the middle.
That put the Carson-Newman ahead by 10 for good.
SAC 20 for 20 moments
No. 20 | Catawba women's golf - Paige Haverty wins four straight SAC Player of the Year awards (2003-06)
No. 19 | Tusculum women's tennis – Lesley Murray earns SAC Player of the Year honors four years in a row (2001-04)
No. 18 | Tusculum women's basketball – Pioneers upset No. 11 Lander to win NCAA Southeast Region Championship (March 15, 2010)
No. 17 | Anderson men's basketball – Denzail Jones scores 50 points in SAC Championship semifinal (March 3, 2012)
No. 16 | Lenoir-Rhyne softball – Bears set SAC record with 53 wins (2010)
No. 15 | Anderson men's basketball – Trojans upset Augusta St. to reach NCAA Division II Elite Eight (March 15, 2011)
No. 14 | Wingate men's basketball – Bulldogs become first SAC program to advance to NCAA Elite Eight (March 13, 2007)
No. 13 | Newberry women's golf – Maria Luz Besio finishes second at NCAA Division II Women's Golf Championship (May 15, 2010)
No. 12 | Mars Hill women's basketball – Susie Hopson becomes first SAC player to compete in WNBA (1997)
No. 11 | Wingate women's basketball – WU reaches back-to-back NCAA Elite Eights (1995-96)
No. 10 | Carson-Newman women's soccer – Eagles become first SAC team to reach NCAA Final Four in women's sport (Nov. 1, 2004)
No. 9 | Wingate women's basketball – Anna Atkinson compiles highly decorated career (2005-09)
No. 8 | Mars Hill men's cross country – Lions win 16-straight SAC Championships (1997-2012)
No. 7 | Catawba baseball – Indians advance to NCAA World Series (May 20, 2012)
No. 6 | Lenoir-Rhyne women's cross country – Katie Griewisch finishes fourth at NCAA National Championship (Nov. 19, 2011)
No. 5 | Lincoln Memorial men's soccer – LMU reaches title match of NCAA Division II Men's Soccer Championship (Nov. 30, 2007)
No. 4 | Carson-Newman football – Eagles advance to three national title games in four years (1996-99)
No. 3 | Carson-Newman football – Coach Ken Sparks records 300th-career win (Aug. 30, 2012)
No. 2 | Wingate volleyball – Bulldogs win 83-straight SAC matches (2007-12)
No. 1 | Mars Hill football – Jonas Randolph wins Harlon Hill Trophy (Dec. 16, 2011)
SAC 20 for 20
The 2012-13 academic year marks the 20th anniversary of the SAC becoming a member of NCAA Division II. In celebration, the conference will count down the top 20 moments from the last two decades in a series titled SAC 20 for 20.
"The last 20 years have provided countless unforgettable moments in this conference," said SAC commissioner Patrick Britz. "The achievements of so many teams and individual student-athletes will make SAC 20 for 20 a fascinating series to watch unfold. We're proud to be members of Division II, and are excited to revisit our rich history over the course of the year."
Since joining Division II in 1993, the SAC has seen teams from each of its 14 championship sports earn selections to NCAA championships. It has also welcomed four new member institutions since becoming eligible for Division II competition – Tusculum, Lincoln Memorial, Anderson and Newberry, which left the conference in 1988 and later rejoined in 1996.
The moments that make up SAC 20 for 20 come from the conference's current member institutions and represent both team and individual accomplishments. Moments from each institution were eligible for SAC 20 for 20 consideration only if they occurred when the school was a member of the league.
The top 20 moments were selected by a committee of conference personnel spanning each of the league's current member schools. The committee was made up of Anderson Athletic Director Nancy Simpson, Brevard Athletic Director Juan Mascaro, Carson-Newman Sr. Woman Administrator Vickee Hollifield, Catawba Athletic Director Dennis Davidson, Lenoir-Rhyne SID John Karrs, Lincoln Memorial FAR Jack Mansfield, Mars Hill FAR Marty Gilbert, Newberry SID Josh Manck, Tusculum SID Dom Donnelly and Wingate Sr. Woman Administrator Michelle Caddigan.
"I would like to thank the member institutions and committee members for their efforts in making SAC 20 for 20 happen," added Britz.