JEFFERSON CITY — Things could hardly have gone worse for Carson-Newman during its regular-season meeting with Lenoir-Rhyne. The Eagles hope to reverse those fortunes when the teams face off in the second round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs.
At the beginning of November, the Bears held the Eagles to season lows in rushing yards (92), total offense (155 yards), first downs (10) and points in a 37-3 whipping in Hickory, N.C. It was the first time this century Carson-Newman was held to less than 100 yards rushing and just the fourth since 1996 that C-N failed to score an offensive touchdown
The No. 18 Eagles (10-2) get a second chance at the No. 14 Bears (10-1) on Saturday. Kickoff at Moretz Stadium is set for noon.
"It's a blessing to be in the playoffs, first of all," Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks said. "And it's even more of a blessing to get to try to do something a whole lot better than we did the first time. That's called grace."
Lenoir-Rhyne is led by South Atlantic Conference defensive player of the year and safety Michael Green, who spearheads a unit that's giving up a league-best 13.8 points and 87 rushing yards a game. The Bears were tops the SAC with 11 interceptions this season.
"They do a lot of things that are exceptional," Sparks said. "We have a great challenge on our hands because they beat us in all three phases of the game the first time we played. We don't talk much about the past, but I think all of us, when that first game was over, sure did want to play it again."
Treverrius Jones, who took over at quarterback when starter Miles Freeman went down with an injury in the first game against the Eagles, has run the Bears' option-based offense well. L-R is averaging 55 points per game with Jones at the helm.
"He started the game against us the first game we played them last year," Sparks said. "He's a big talented athlete and a very capable football player. As best I can tell, he's really executing the offense for them."
The Eagles have scored at least 37 points in each game since that loss to the Bears, and they enter Round 2 with several players on the cusp of milestones. Brandon Baker needs 1 yard for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season rushing, which would make him just the third Carson-Newman player ever to post back-to-back rushing seasons and the fourth with two 1,000-yard seasons in his C-N career. De'Andre Thomas is three touchdowns away from matching the school record for rushing TDs in a single season (22), and Tyron Douglas needs 92 rushing yards to become the 10th player at C-N with 3,000 yards rushing in his career.
And these Eagles also can become the second C-N team with multiple 1,000-yard rushers in a single year. Douglas has 923 yards on the ground, Thomas 904 and Andy Hibbett 791.
Milestones, however, aren't what the players or their coach are chasing Saturday.
"We're banged up physically, but mentally, we've made that progress we've been looking for," Sparks said. "We've taken steps forward the last four weeks. Let's get off the roller coaster mentally, quit doing stinkin' thinkin' and go out and play right."