VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
JEFFERSRON CITY, Tenn. – With playoff aspirations very much intact, Carson-Newman (6-2, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) makes the jaunt to the Palmetto State for the fifth all-time meeting with Limestone (3-6, 2-4 SAC) Saturday at 1 p.m. at The Reservation.
The sixth-ranked team in the NCAA Division II Super Region II rankings, the Eagles need to win out to control their own destiny and lock up their 26th playoff appearance.
"I think from the very beginning of the year I thought we had a chance to be able to do that and I'm excited for them to have a chance to write a good story at the end to put themselves in position to be in the playoffs," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "But I also think they've got a good mindset about them that you don't look anywhere down the road. Right now, we're already in a playoff mode. We have been the last couple of weeks. So when you have that kind of mode, you're not apt to look down the road too far down."
The Saints will be looking to play the role of spoiler and collect their first senior day victory in the sixth year of existence of the program. With last week's 27-6 win over UVa-Wise, Limestone won in November for the first time in program history. The Saints had previously been 0-9 for the month.
Limestone has put scares into three ranked teams at home, losing by a combined 35 points to No. 14 West Georgia, No. 24 West Alabama and No. 7 Lenoir-Rhyne. L-R needed a late score to hang on for a 28-20 win over the Saints two weeks ago.
"It's senior day at Limestone and I know those kids will be excited and fired up and ready to play," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "It's going to be a challenge, any time you go on the road in this league to play it's a challenge. We had a great win last week on the road, we've got to have a great week of preparation. They've got athletes on that football team, they've got kids defensively and offensively that can run and make plays. So we've got to be prepared, have a great plan going in and stick with it and make sure that we are of the right mindset."
Carson-Newman leads the all-time series with the Saints 4-0. The last time the Eagles played at The Reservation, All-SAC corner Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) became the first Eagle with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pick in one game since Sha'Heem Stupart pulled it off against Shorter in week two of 2015.
The list of players with a pick, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one game in the last decade includes Fairell, Stupart and Nathan Jones, who did so against Brevard in 2010.
Fairell's next interception will be his 18th in his career. He needs seven more picks to catch Mike Schlecter and Chuck Proffitt for the all-time record. The six interceptions Fairell has this year are tied for the ninth most for a single-season in school history.
His next pick will move him into a seven-way tie for the third-most in school history for one year. Al Canty holds the single season record with 11 set in 1972.
Fairell has led a highly opportunistic secondary this year. Carson-Newman has picked off 17 passes this year. Three more picks and this version of the Eagles will become the 11th team in school history with 20 picks in a single year.
"Those guys in the secondary have done a good job with their eyes. Also playing with more confidence – a little bit tighter – locking down some areas there and having great coverage," Turner said. "But it goes back to the expectations. They expect to make plays and gosh, if we can play in a game where they got four takeaways when we only got one turnover that we had late in the game (last week), then that's what you're looking for."
The 1991 team holds the school record with 31 interceptions. Carson-Newman is fourth nationally this year with its 17 picks and leads the South Atlantic Conference. The Eagles have picked off multiple passes in three straight games and have a quintet multi-pick games. C-N has intercepted opposing quarterbacks at least once in every game this year with the exception of week three's loss at Wingate.
That secondary will have to contend with one of the more physically imposing quarterbacks in the conference in Limestone's DJ Phillips.
"He's a challenge from the part that they have packages set for him (where) he's the designated runner and can show the option," Turner said "Their offense where he's a threat to get outside with it, but he's also got receivers there and got athletes that can make plays."
Phillips, a Marshall transfer, hulks at 6-7, 230 pounds. With 177 yards per game through the air, Phillips is the SAC's second leading passer. He threw for a season-high 313 yards in the Saints season opener against West Alabama. His top target has been Juwan Scott. He is the league's second leading receiver both in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Scott is two games removed from a 154-yard outing in the eight-point loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.
The Saints have balance and have gotten things done on the ground.
This season, 2017 SAC Offensive Freshman of the Year Jer'Koya Patton leads the South Atlantic Conference in both rushing yards (770) and rushing yards per game (85.6). He has added eight touchdowns on the ground, all three marks of which rank inside the top 50 in the nation for Division II, while also setting program records for longest touchdown run (85 yards) and single-game rushing touchdowns (3). In addition, his eight trips into the end zone and 6.0 yards-per-rush average in 2019 both rank as all-time single-season highs for Limestone.
Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) became the fourth member of Carson-Newman's 3,500-yard rushing club against Mars Hill. He is third all-time in rushing yards with 3,532. Wimbush is 510 yards away from second and Kenneth Tyson, and 624 yards away from first and Robert Thomas.
Wimbush's next 100-yard performance would give him 16 for his career, putting him within one of Brandon Baker and Kenneth Tyson for the second most all-time.
A touchdown would draw Wimbush level with Andy Hibbett for 7th on the career rushing touchdown chart with 37 career scores.
Derrick Evans (Macon, Ga.) has also accounted for 34 rushing scores in his career, his next rushing touchdown will put him even with Robert Thomas for 11th on the all-time list. Brandon Baker and Antwon Oliver sit in a tie for eighth on the list with 36 with Antonio Wimbush.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Saints is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. Coverage will be available 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.