VIDEO: Stephen Lyons Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – For the first time since 2015, Carson-Newman gears up to host a South Atlantic Conference Quarterfinal match as the No. 1 seed in the tournament with eighth-seeded Coker coming to town on Saturday.
"I think it's great for the guys [to be the top seed in the conference]," Carson-Newman coach Stephen Lyons said. "They've worked hard for it all year long, faced a lot of adversity along the way and reacted really well. I'm just really happy for the group, happy for the seniors that stuck around and put the work in as well, and hopefully we can continue going after Saturday."
Carson-Newman (10-3-3) collected its 10th SAC Regular Season title in Wednesday night's 1-1 draw with Tusculum. The Eagles finished the regular season with 21 points on the league table, the same total as Queens. C-N took the top-seed in the tournament due to the tiebreaker it held over the Royals in the form of a 2-1 victory on Oct. 5.
This is the first quarterfinal match the Eagles have hosted since 2017 and the 18th since 1995. They are 10-7 when hosting the opening round of the tournament, winning two of the last five. The last home quarterfinal win C-N saw came in 2015 when top-seeded C-N defeated Brevard, 4-0.
Since 1990, the regular season champion has also secured the tournament title 13 times. The most recent team to do so was Wingate in 2017. Carson-Newman did so in 2005 for its only tournament hardware to date.
Matches on the home pitch have been kind to the Eagles in this 2019 campaign as they hold a 5-1-1 at McCown Field.
Coker (9-7) possesses a 4-3 record when playing outside of Hartsville, S.C. this year. It heads back to the SAC Tournament for a second-straight season as the No. 8 seed. Its stint in the tournament last year was short-lived with a 2-0 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne in the quarterfinal.
Saturday marks the first time that these two teams have faced off in a postseason setting. The last meeting between the Eagles and Cobras came on Oct. 12 of this season. C-N evened the series at 4-4 with a golden goal from Nic Carsh (Newberg, Ore.) in the 103rd and minute to upset a then-No. 15 Coker side, 1-0.
Coker opened the season with just a pair of losses through its first nine matches, five of those victories being shutouts. After C-N's upset, the Cobras dropped the next four matches.
First-year coach Michael Antoniewicz's group clinched a postseason berth with a pair of wins to close out the regular season in bounce-back fashion – a 2-1 victory over Lincoln Memorial and a 4-2 decision over Lenoir-Rhyne.
The Cobras lead the league with 5.94 saves per game, 95 saves in total. They are in the top-five of 11 other statistical categories, matching C-N for the second-most goals through the regular season with 34 and are second for corner kicks per game at 6.13.
"We can't take any opponent lightly, especially with Coker coming in," Lyons said. "We know that they're very dangerous so it's important that we rest up after [Wednesday's] game, recover well and then prep well going into Saturday."
Christian Provenzano leads the SAC with 81 shots and has scored the second-most goals on the year at 11, five of those being game-winners. The junior has scored in nine matches this season with two multiple-goal outings. His seven assists on the season for 29 points are also enough for second in those categories, too. Nationally, the midfielder is second with 5.40 shots on goal and fifth for game-winners.
In net, Guilermo Falo Ejea has been the primary Cobra throughout the season with an 8-6-0 record. He is second in the SAC for shutouts with five and is ninth in the nation for saves with 86.
Both Provenzano and Ejea received SAC AstroTurf Player of the Week accolades during the regular season. They swept the honors on Oct. 1 but Provenzano followed that with a second-straight offensive laurel the next week.
C-N and Coker will be vying for a spot in the SAC Semifinals that are to be played at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex at Matthews in Matthews, N.C.
Saturday's quarterfinal is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. on the banks of Mossy Creek. The Eagle Sports Network will bring you a full broadcast of the quarterfinal match-up from McCown Field at cneagles.com with updates hitting Twitter throughout the contest from @CNathletics. Fans can also visit the SAC Soccer Championship website for more news and notes about the tournament as it progresses.