Sparks ties Bear Bryant with second half surge

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By Adam Cavalier

No. 18 Carson-Newman (5-1, 4-0 South Atlantic Conference) ratcheted up its defensive efforts in the second half to get head coach Ken Sparks his 323rd career victory and move him into a tie for fifth on the all-time wins list with legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant with a 55-35 win over Tusculum (2-5, 1-3 SAC) Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field.

However, Sparks’ 323rd career win was in doubt at the break. Tusculum had used the final 5:27 of the second quarter to score 21 unanswered points and take a 35-27 lead into the locker room. The Pioneers rounded out their scoring for the quarter, the half and the day with a Justin Houston 32-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Malcolm Pendergrass with 11 seconds left in the second quarter. Tusculum gained 252 yards – 79 percent of its offensive output – all in the second quarter. Tusculum scored a school-record 35 second quarter points. Carson-Newman limited the Pioneers to just two first downs and 14 yards on 22 plays in the second half.

William Alderman and Javaris Neal combined to generate a bevy of pressure up front that led to six sacks, six quarterback hurries and 11 tackles for loss.  Alderman finished with nine stops to lead the team while Neal scattered five stops, two sacks and three tackles for loss.

The party was slow to start in the second half for the Eagles offensively. Carson-Newman received the opening kickoff but failed to convert on a fourth down conversion from the Tusculum 18-yard line. However, the Eagles forced the Pioneers off the field after Alderman and Neal chased down Pendergrass in the backfield to force a punt.

The Eagles’ offense methodically worked its way 69 yards down field in 17 plays to punch Damian into the end zone off a two-yard dive play. The Eagles used an identical play to convert a two-point conversion and knot the game at 35.

Another Alderman-Neal sack forced the Pioneers off the field on their next drive and gave way early in the fourth quarter to a steady does of Andy Hibbett. The senior scored three times in the fourth quarter, from 12, 41 and three yards to cement the game for the Eagles.

For the second consecutive week, Hibbett turned in a record book altering performance. With 30 carries and 221 yards, Hibbett had the 14th-best single game rushing yard tally in school history. By rushing for more than 100 yards, Hibbett tied Buck Wakefield’s school record of five consecutive weeks rushing for at least 100 yards. Hibbett also moved past Wayne Morton and Floyd Mathis into 12th place on the all-time rushing list.

Jamal Jones and De’Andre Thomas both also crested 100 yards on the day.  Carson-Newman has had eight players rush for 100 yards or more on Tusculum in the last three years. With two rushing touchdowns, Jones had the first multi-TD day of his career.

Thomas also completed four-of-five passed for 102 yards and two touchdowns.  Anthony Eubanks snagged a 71-yard post for a score while James Phillips hauled in a five-yard back shoulder fade to open scoring.

Malcolm Pendergrass led the Pioneer offense on 13-of-25 passing for 230 yards.  Pendergrass also threw two picks. Houston grabbed six passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

The Eagles return home for homecoming next Saturday against North Greenville. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.

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