JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – No. 18 Carson-Newman (6-1, 3-1 South Atlantic Conference) will try to extend a three-game winning streak when it heads to Tigerville, S.C. with a shot to crash North Greenville's (4-3) homecoming Saturday.
The Eagles offense finally seemed to click last week in C-N's 45-17 homecoming victory. C-N rolled up 600 yards of total offense and more than 500 yards of rushing against Tusculum, but not without issue.
"How many times do we dominate a game, and then give up a penalty that costs us a touchdown," Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks said. "Then you take an 18-play drive with three penalties that cost you points (against Tusculum). It doesn't take many plays like that to cost you a ball game. We certainly are not fully accomplished yet."
Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) had 141 yards and two scores for the Eagles in that game, while quarterback De'Andre Thomas raced for a career-best 182 yards and two scores. Baker has 14 career 100-yard games and the Eagles are 13-1 in those contests. But Sparks said, for North Greenville, it doesn't matter what either team has accomplished, the focus will likely be inward.
"At the same time, I don't think North Greenville is too concerned with what we've done the last three ball games," Sparks said. "All the things we had in our favor last week are all against us. It's their homecoming, we beat them soundly last year and I'm certain them losing three in a row is not what they had in mind."
Carson-Newman took a 52-10 decision from the Crusaders last year on C-N's homecoming. The Eagles forced North Greenville into three straight three and outs to open that game, while C-N scored on its opening three possessions.
To get similar hot start defensively Saturday, C-N will need to contend with the nation's best receiver Freddie Martino. The North Greenville wideout has the top tallies in the country for catches (93) and yards (1,070) for the season.
Martino has the highest single game reception total this season for Division II with 19 catches against Lenoir-Rhyne.
"They have tons of speed and two receivers who are really fast," Sparks said. "Martino is very dangers, as evident by his stats. Nelson Hughes is a two-dimensional quarterback who can run and throw the football."
Hughes' passing numbers for yards, completions and touchdowns all rank among the top 25 in the nation.
That aerial assault will go against Carson-Newman's rushing attack, which, at 378 yards a game, ranks second in the nation. However, the Eagles are looking for some point production from their passing game.
Coming into 2013, Carson-Newman's coaching staff wanted to make a concerted effort to throw the football more. The Eagles have done just that this season. Through 7 weeks last year, C-N had 759 yards on 40-70 (57%) passing. This year Eagles are 53-101 (52%) for 803 yards.
Carson-Newman is rushing the football 80 percent of the time this year as opposed to 86 percent last season.
What's different though is C-N's ability to score through the air. Carson-Newman hasn't had a passing touchdown since a three-pack in the opener against Wayne State. The six-week passing TD drought is the Eagles longest this century. It's only matched by a five-week span in 2010. Outside of those to streaks, Carson-Newman hasn't gone more than three games without a passing touchdown since 2000.
Carson-Newman and North Greenville kick off at 2:30 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins with the Tailgate Show at 1:30 on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), 106.3 ESPN Radio the Zone (WPFT-FM, Sevierville, Tenn.) and online at cneagles.com/live.