JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the final part in an 11-part series chronicling each of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2013 season. Today's feature breaks down a team that beat the Eagles' on national TV last year 33-24 – the Wingate Bulldogs.
With that win, Wingate became the second team to beat a Ken Sparks-coached Carson-Newman team in three consecutive seasons. The Bulldogs join Elon (1984-86) in that club.
To do something that no team has ever done – beat C-N in four consecutive seasons – the Bulldogs will have to do so with a defense that loses eight starters and an offense that loses its top threat.
The Bulldogs do return seven starters on offense, but gone are Harlon Hill candidate Chris Bowden and Bryan Caffery – who snagged a league best 11 touchdown passes. Combined, the duo caught 20 of the Bulldogs 29 passing touchdowns. The departed wideouts represent 56 percent of the Bulldogs receptions from last year and 60 percent of their receiving yards.
Tim Nalesnik is the leading returning receiver. He had 16 catches for 215 yards and two scores.
At the very least, Wingate at least has a beyond solid option at quarterback. Robbie Nallenweg returns for his senior season as the Bulldogs' signal caller. Nallenweg passed for 3,644 yards last year to go along with 29 touchdowns. That's the good. The bad? He also threw 25 interception, including a seven INT game in a loss to UNC Pembroke. Still, Nallenweg is more than capable of moving the football, he had the seventh-ranked passing offense in the nation.
Nallenweg will hand off to Nestor Lantigua, who had 514 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Lantigua knifed Carson-Newman to pieces on national television, garnering 140 yards and three touchdowns. He was the first man to score three rushing TDs on the Eagles in a decade.
Three starters return on the line, including second team preseason All-SAC selection Mike Miller. Preseason all-conference tight end Mark Clyburn, a 6-6, 250-pound Clydesdale, also returns.
Wingate will try to keep an offense rolling that converted on 48 percent of its third downs a year ago, 11th in the nation. However, the Bulldogs were also their own worst enemy offensively. They turned it over 39 times last year – the second most in the nation.
While the Bulldogs lost their best offensive player, they return their top defensive stalwart. That's lineman Nick Napolitano. His 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss were the best marks in the SAC and were good enough to earn him first team all-conference honors. Jakeem Polk and Timmy Rogers return in the secondary after 59 and 52-tackle seasons, respectively. Polk was the Bulldogs leader in interceptions with four.
Last year's pass defense was top notch, finishing in the top 25 with 166 yards allowed per game. The rush defense was hit and miss. The Bulldogs held two teams under 100 yards rushing, but the Bulldogs also surrendered more than 200 yards rushing to three teams.
To improve on either number, the Bulldogs will need to fill holes in the linebacking corps, where the top two tacklers – Jared Seate and Richie Kazazian – resided. Seate led the team with 109 tackles. Kazazian had 73.
Carson-Newman owns a 21-4 all-time advantage on the Bulldogs. All of Wingate's wins have been close. The Bulldogs' three wins on the current streak have been decided by a combined 13 points, with last year's nine-point win the largest margin of victory for the Bulldogs in series history.
This is the final installment of the Better Know The Opponent series. The Eagles' open their 2013 season Thursday at 7 p.m. against Wayne State.