BJ Spradlin sets TC single-game record with 36 carries in loss
MARS HILL, N.C. --- Mars Hill’s Jeremy Hughes hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass in overtime to lead the Lions to a thrilling 23-20 South Atlantic Conference victory over visiting Tusculum Saturday afternoon at Meares Stadium.
With the win, Mars Hill (6-3, 5-1 SAC) moves a half game into first place in the league standings with only its Nov. 10 regular season finale at Carson-Newman remaining. Tusculum (2-7, 1-4 SAC) drops its 11th consecutive road game and will host Carson-Newman next Saturday at Pioneer Field for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
MHC’s Jon Richt went 22-for-53 for 369 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted five times on the afternoon, including twice by Tusculum’s Kaytron Becton.
The five interceptions are the second most in Tusculum history, but the Pioneers could only muster seven points off the five MHC miscues.
TC running back BJ Spradlin rushed for 99 yards on a school single-game record 36 carries, breaking the previous mark (34) set by former All-SAC standout Aaron Claridy against Jacksonville (Fla.) in 1999.
Mars Hill’s Deunta Jennings recorded 212 receiving yards on eight receptions, while SAC rushing leader Shaikel Davis, rushed for 79 yards, nearly 50 yards below his season average.
TC quarterback Bo Cordell passed for a career-low 176 yards and was sacked three times on the afternoon. Cordell went 17-for-32 with zero interceptions, while also rushing nine times for eight yards. Cordell’s TD pass gives him 80 for his career, two shy of the Tusculum career mark held Corey Russell (82 from 2005-08).
Jasper Mason led the Mars Hill defense with 21 tackles, while Drew Martin and Sammy Siasia finished with 17 and 11 stops, respectively.
Deres Benn was TC’s top tackler with seven, while Evan Dansby and Luke Harris posted six hits each. Becton added four tackles and four pass break-ups with his two interceptions, which are tied for a TC single-game mark.
Tusculum went to the ground-game early and often to start the contest as 15 of its first 19 offensive plays were rushes. In the process, the Pioneer defense did not allow a first down in the opening quarter and dominated the time of possession holding onto the football for nearly 11 minutes in the first frame.
Tusculum took the opening possession and drove to the Mars Hill 33, but the Pioneers failed to convert on fourth and two yards to go. Mars Hill would go three and out on its first possession and punted away. TC moved the ball into Mars Hill territory again but on third-and-six, Cordell was sacked back to the MHC 46. Andy Rosetti came into punt, but the Pioneers attempted a fake but Rosetti’s pass to Matt Levine was off target as the Lions took over near midfield.
Two plays later, Richt’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Aaron Morgan at the TC 43. Cordell and Pioneers once again moved into Lions’ territory, but a holding penalty moved the visitors to the MHC 32. Being too far out for a field goal attempt and too close to punt, TC went for it on fourth-down and 15, but this time Cordell found Matt Levine across the middle of the secondary and caught the ball at the goal line for a 32-yard touchdown. Logan Cornelius’ kick gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead at the 1:18 mark of the first quarter.
Mars Hill would go three-and-out again on its next possession and would be forced to punt away again. But on the first play of the second quarter and into a stiff wind, B.J. Richmond’s punt only went 13 yards as TC took over at its own 48-yard line.
The Pioneers marched 52 yards on eight plays in 2:59, capped off by a one-yard TD run by Spradlin as Tusculum upped its lead to 14-0 with 11:52 remaining before halftime. The big play of the drive was a Cordell 30-yard pass to Justin Houston on third-down and 15.
Mars Hill answered with a six-play, 73-yard drive of its own as Richt went 3-for-3 for 49 yards, including a 31-yard pass to Holmes to the TC 21. Jennings culminated the scoring drive with his three-yard TD run. Victor Yurco’s kick cut the deficit in half at 14-7 with 9:35 remaining before halftime.
After forcing a punt on Tusculum’s next possession, Mars Hill drove to the TC 8, where it was first and goal from there. The drive would stall at the six-yard line, forcing the Lions to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Yurco as MHC trailed 14-10 with 3:29 remaining on the clock.
Tusculum would get to midfield on its next possession and were forced to punt as the Lions took over at their own 13 with 1:02 left in the half. After a three-yard run by Davis, Richt completed a 73-yard strike to Jennings down the near sideline to the TC 11 with 20.9 seconds left. On third down, Richt was picked off in the end zone by Harris with 0.9 seconds left as the Pioneers held on for the 14-10 lead at the intermission.
Mars Hill would get the football to start the second half and on the first offensive play, Richt went deep, but was intercepted by Becton at the TC 31. Tusculum would go three-and-out and would be forced to punt.
On the ensuing possession, Richt completed a 50-yard strike to Jennings to the TC 38. But on fourth-down-and-nine, Becton picked off Richt for a second time in the quarter at the TC 29.
TC could not take advantage of the turnover as the Pioneers went three-and-out and were forced to punt. The TC defense held the Lions to minus-one yard on its next series, forcing Mars Hill to punt. But the kick was muffed by Tusculum and recovered by MHC’s Montego Baldwin at the TC 31.
The Tusculum defense held on the first three plays of the drive, but Richt completed a 17-yard pass to Davis on fourth down to the TC 9. The Pioneers looked to stop the Lions again, but on third and goal from the seven, Tusculum was penalized for defensive holding as the Lions had first-and-goal from the four. From there, Hughes punched it in on a four-yard run as the Lions took their first lead of the afternoon at 17-14 with 5:11 left in the quarter.
On Tusculum’s next possession, Cordell completed a 28-yard pass to Trey McCoy to the 50-yardline in the final moments of the third quarter. TC would have the ball first-and-goal at the MHC 4, but the drive would stall at the three-yard line as the Pioneers would settle for a 20-yard field by Cornelius to tie the game at 17-17 with 13:33 remaining in regulation.
The Lions would drive again across midfield into Tusculum territory. But Richt’s was blitzed by Morgan, who tipped the ball into the air and was hauled in by Cashaud Lyons who returned his first career interception 19 yards to the MHC 35.
A false start penalty moved Tusculum out of scoring range and would be forced to punt as MHC took over at the 18. The two teams would exchange punts on their next two possessions.
With 7:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, Mars Hill took over at its own 33. Richt completed a 14-yard pass to Holmes and followed with a 32-yard strike to Jennings to move the Lions into scoring possession at the TC 22. MHC would work the ball all the way to the TC three-yardline, but the drive would stop there. Yurco came onto attempt a 20-yard field goal, but his kick went wide left as the score remained tied at 17-17 with 3:58 remaining.
Tusculum would not be able to capitalize on its next possession and were forced to punt as Rosetti got off a 57-yard kick, which was downed at the MHC 16 with 2:26 left on the clock.
Richt moved his team into TC territory with three straight completions covering 13, 10 and 16 yards to the Tusculum 45. The Lions would get to the TC 41 and on fourth-down and six yards to go and less than a minute to play Mars Hill would have to make a decision. MHC went for it as Richt completed pass to Holmes right at the sticks, but the 5-yard pass wasn’t enough as Tusculum took over on downs with 49 seconds to go.
Tusculum would get to midfield, but that’s as close as they could get, sending the contest into overtime.
Mars Hill won the coin toss and elected to go on defense first. Spradlin rushed four yards to the MHC 21 on the first play, but Cordell’s pass to Smith in the end zone was incomplete. Cordell scrambled out of the pocket and looked to pick up the first down running, but was tripped up from behind by Khalid Smith. Cornelius would come on and calmly drill a 34-yard field goal to give the Pioneers the lead at 20-17.
On Mars Hill’s possession, the Lions converted on third-down and seven as Richt completed an eight yard pass to Jennings, who was stopped with a TD-saving shoestring tackle by Becton at the TC 14. Davis recorded rushes of six and three yards to get to the TC 5. On third down and one, Richt rolled out to the right on a boot-leg and found Hughes at the goal line for the winning touchdown.
Tusculum dominate the time of possession by almost a 10-minute margin (34:53-25:07), but Mars Hill out-gained the Pioneers 465-317 in offensive yards.
Rosetti had an outstanding day for the Pioneers as he averaged 42.9 yards on his seven punts, including four inside the 20-yard line.
Tusculum will be honoring its seniors next weekend when they host Carson-Newman. It will also be Parents’ Weekend on the Greeneville campus next Saturday.
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