Carson-Newman (6-1) head coach Ken Sparks’ 324th career win wasn’t an easy one. The Eagles trailed by 21 points midway through the second quarter but rallied to outscore North Greenville (4-4) 28-6 over the final 32:16 of the game to move Sparks past Bear Bryant and into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time wins list Saturday afternoon at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman received gritty rushing performances from Andy Hibbett and Damian Baker. Hibbett broke a school record for consecutive 100-yard performances with 187 yards on a career high 33 carries. He has crested the century mark for a sixth straight game
Meanwhile, Baker had a career day himself with 25 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Baker scored the game-winner for the Eagles on an 18-yard draw play with 9:15 left in the fourth quarter.
North Greenville out-gained the Eagles 414-400. Carson-Newman had 383 of its yards on the ground. The 400-yard output for total offense is the Eagles’ lowest of the year. Carson-Newman was held without a 20-yard play for the first time since losing 37-3 to Lenoir-Rhyne during the 2013 regular season.
Turnovers plagued both teams. The Eagles coughed it up twice on interceptions and twice on fumbles, while North Greenville lost four fumbles.
The Crusaders were led by Trey Walker on the ground. He rushed 12 times for 136 yards and a score. Simeon Byrd was 14-for-84 on the ground with two TD’s. Quarterback Nelson Hughes completed 19-of-34 passes for 199 yards and the game’s opening touchdown.
North Greenville built its lead on the ground. Trey Walker found the end zone as time expired in the first quarter on a 32-yard draw play. The Crusaders capitalized on a pair of picks to push the lead out to three touchdowns with 6:22 left in the second thanks a scores from one and 20 yards from Byrd.
However, that’s when Carson-Newman started to find its gear offensively. The Eagles rattled off a 12-play 74-yard drive to get Baker into the end zone for the first time from a yard away. A North Greenville fumble gave the Eagles a short field the next drive. Five plays and 22 yards later, Baker was into the end zone again, this time from eight yards away and the Eagles were within seven.
The Crusaders would push the lead back to two possessions before the half ended on a Justin Gravely 38-yard field goal. Another Gravely field goal moved the lead to 13 6:14 into the second half. The Crusaders wouldn’t score again.
Hibbett bounced into the end zone with 2:36 left in the third before Carson-Newman’s defense got a stop to force another Gravely field goal, one he would shank left.
That set the stage for Baker’s dramatics. The Eagles churned down the field in 4:50 with a 14-play 77-yard drive that found Baker waltzing into the end zone on second and 15 from 18 yards away.
North Greenville had chances to retake the leading, driving down to the Eagles 39 with six minutes left. However, a David Crumitie interception erased the Crusaders chances of a win. The Eagles were able to wind the final five minutes off the clock with a 10-play possession.
The Eagles limited North Greenville to nine first downs and 153 yards after halftime.
Jerry Miclisse led the Eagles’ defense with his second career 10-tackle game. Sha’Heem Stupart added nine stops. William Alderman, Johnson Jamiso and Eric Hilton all recovered fumbles.
The Eagles clash with top-five Lenoir-Rhyne Nov. 1 at 1 p.m.