JEFFERSON CITY- Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks coached his 400th career game and win number 314 was a sweet one as the Eagles rolled up 628 yards of total offense-557 on the ground- as they defeated Tusculum 45-17 on Homecoming Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The win by Sparks ties him with Eastern Kentucky's Roy Kidd and Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg for seventh place in career wins in NCAA history. The C-N mentor was quick to give praise to many others for the success he has enjoyed on Mossy Creek.
"I have been blessed with good people, surrounded with good people and been able to coach with good people who have responded to challenges," Sparks said. "Our main goal has always been that we would do something that would enhance someone's life for eternity. The way to do that is to do everything as unto the Lord and I am grateful that He has allowed me to live long enough to coach in 400 games. That's a long time," Sparks said with a laugh.
The win is the No. 19 Eagles' (6-1, 3-1 SAC) fifth consecutive over the Pioneers (3-4, 1-3 SAC). C-N's 628 yards of total offense and 557 yards rushing are both the most for the program since C-N beat TC last season thanks to 649 yards of total offense and 563 yards rushing.
The C-N offense was paced by quarterback De'Andre Thomas (Milledgeville, Ga.) who ran 19 times for 182 yards and two scores as well as passing for 71 yards. Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) carried the ball 14 times for 141 yards and two scores and Andy Hibbett (Corryton, Tenn.) scored two touchdowns of his own for the Eagles. (6-1, 3-1). TraShaun Ward (Miami, Fla.) had a big game on special teams as he had 105 yards on three carries and added 39 yards on three punt returns.
Tusculum (3-4, 1-3) quarterback Bo Cordell (Cincinnati, OH) entered Saturday's contest needing 394 yards to become Division II's all-time leading passer. He came close as he finished the contest 27-of-45 for 360 yards and two scores. His favorite receiver was Justin Houston (Cleveland, TN) who caught 10 passes for 162 yards.
The Carson-Newman offense scored on every possession in the second half except the first and last one but even more impressive was the fact the Eagles' defense held the potent Tusculum offense to only 82 total yards before the last scoring drive of the game by the Pioneers.
"The kids knew that there had been times all season we had not finished ball games and not executed at times and I think they were determined this time to not have any major letdowns and I thought they did a great job," Sparks said of his team's performance in the final 30 minutes of play.
The Eagles jumped on top when they took advantage of a great punt return by Ward who set C-N up at the Tusculum 29 yard line with a 21-yard return. Baker capped the drive with a three-yard run and Curt Duncan's (Morristown, Tenn.) point after was good to give Carson-Newman a 7-0 lead.
The Pioneers responded with an 11-play, 65 yard drive and Logan Cornelius (Chattanooga, TN) booted a 27-yard field goal to make it 7-3. The next drive for Carson-Newman resulted in the play of the contest as Baker busted through the middle wide open and didn't stop until he found pay dirt 69 yards later – the rush was the longest of Baker's career. Duncan's kick was true to give the Eagles a 14-3 lead.
Cordell got Tusculum back into it when he found Deon Hicks (Fresno, Calif.) for a 28-yard scoring play early in the second quarter. The drive was set up when the Eagles fumbled and the ball was recovered by Chaz Moulder (Atlanta, Ga.) at the TC 43. Cornelius's extra point brought the Pioneers to within four points at 14-10.
The Eagles didn't waste any time padding their lead as Thomas rushed 33 yards to the TC 27 and then scored on the quarterback keeper on a 32-yard jaunt to push their lead to 21-10. That would be the way the first half would end.
After being forced to punt on their first drive of the second half, the Eagles' offense would not leave the field until they scored until the final possession of the game. Carson-Newman's first score of the second half came when Hibbett scored on a 10-yard run. Late in the third quarter Thomas ran in for a 15 yard score to push the C-N advantage to 35-10.
The Eagles' next scoring drive was set up by a big defensive play. Cordell was marching the Pioneers down the field but the drive came to an abrupt end when Dante Thomas (Dalton, Ga.) intercepted Cordell's pass at the Carson-Newman five yard line.
Thomas' pick was his second of the season and marked the eighth straight week the Eagles have intercepted a pass. Carson-Newman forced three turnovers for the fifth time this season.
The fact they had to go 95 yards for a score did not seem to bother the Eagles as they kept chipping their way down the field until Hibbett broke loose for a 52-yard score – a career long for him - to put the Eagles up 42-10 after Duncan's successful PAT.
The final points for the Eagles came from Duncan who connected on a 19-yard field goal to make it 45-10. Tusculum's offense, who could get nothing going in the second half, finally responded when they drove 75 yards in eight plays and Cordell found Wesley Powell (Eclectic, Ala.) for a 12-yard throw and catch. Cornelius' point after produced the 45-17 final.
Jaycob Coleman (Norton, Va.) had 17 tackles for the Eagles and Brian Alexander (Union Point, Va,) led the TC defense with 20 tackles followed closely by Dustin Lane's (Lithonia, Ga.) 12 tackles. Coleman's 17 stops are tied for 11th on Carson-Newman's single game tackles list. They are second to Larry Lumpkin's 19 stops for the Eagles in the last 15 years.
"We made some progress and took a step forward in being the kind of team that we want to be," Sparks said. "We still have a lot of work to do and have a lot of things to work on. I think we have some guys who really reached down and got a little extra today."
The Eagles will be on the road for three of the next four games starting with a trip to Tigerville, South Carolina next Saturday to take on North Greeneville. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Pregame coverage begins with the Tailgate Show on the Eagle Sports Network at 1:30 on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), 106.3 ESPN Radio The Zone (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.