GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Lor'renzo Pratt rushed for a career-high 151 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns, and added a 91-yard kickoff return for a score as Tusculum University defeated Carson-Newman University 41-28 in South Atlantic Conference action Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field.
Playing on Senior Day, Pratt scored on runs of 1, 47 and 1 yards in the final 12 minutes for the Pioneers (5-3, 4-2 SAC), who outgained the Eagles 285-279 on the ground in the game. Jordon Shippy added 104 yards on 11 carries and a score as Tusculum earned its largest victory against Carson-Newman since a 103-0 win on Oct. 11, 1919.
Antonio Wimbush rushed for 112 yards and a score for the Eagles (6-3, 4-2 SAC), who possessed the ball for 34 minutes and ran 16 more offensive plays than the Pioneers, but were plagued by miscues on special teams that contributed directly to four Tusculum touchdowns. Four of the Pioneers' five offensive touchdowns came on drives that began on the Eagles' side of midfield.
The Carson-Newman offense moved effectively on its four touchdown drives, accumulating 290 of their 418 total yards on those possessions. However, the Tusculum defense shined on the Eagles' 10 other drives, holding Carson-Newman to a net 135 yards on 50 plays while forcing eight punts and two turnovers on downs.
Defensive end Nelson Louis played a big role for Tusculum in shutting down the Carson-Newman run attack, finishing with 13 tackles (seven solo) including 3 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. Ivan Hogans added 11 tackles (four solo) and Randy Hooks had 10 tackles (five solo) and blocked a punt to set up a Tusculum touchdown.
Pratt finished the game with 262 all-purpose yards (151 rushing, 12 receiving, 99 return), which is the seventh-highest in a game in program history. His four total touchdowns are tied with four other players for the second most in school history, behind Eric Claridy's five rushing scores against Maryville in 1994. Pratt's four touchdowns are the most for a Tusculum player since Xzanvion Smith had four touchdowns (two receiving, two return) against Brevard on Sept. 29, 2012.
Carson-Newman won the opening toss and saw Wimbush dart for 64 yards deep into Tusculum territory on the first play from scrimmage. Five plays later, Wimbush scored from two yards out and Drew Eudy added the extra point to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 12:06 left in the first quarter.
Tusculum gained a total of four yards on its first two possessions, both ending in punts, but the Pioneers caught their first break when Hooks blocked a punt by the Eagles' Craig Koenig and Allen Cooper recovered at the Carson-Newman 29. Shippy then dashed up the middle for 29 yards and a touchdown, with Joe Defatta's PAT tying the game at 7-7 with 3:18 to play in the opening quarter.
Carson-Newman took possession and faced fourth-and-1 at its own 46 on the second play of the second quarter. Quarterback Derrick Evans kept the snap, but was swarmed over by Amaad Gandy for a three-yard loss and a turnover on downs. The Pioneers advanced the ball to the Eagles' 30, but Defatta was short on a 46-yard field goal into the wind with 12:22 to go in the first half.
Following the missed kick, the Eagles chewed up 70 yards on the ground on six plays, capped by a 39-yard touchdown run down the right sideline by Sherron Jackson. Eudy's conversion pushed the Carson-Newman lead to 14-7 with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Pratt caught the ball at his 9 and ran into the pile at the 25-yard line, then spun out and raced the remaining distance for a 91-yard touchdown and a 14-14 tie following Defatta's extra point. It was the first kickoff return for a score for the Pioneers since Jay Boyd at Catawba on Nov. 5, 2016 and is tied for the eighth-longest in program history.
Following an Eagle punt, the Pioneers drove into Carson-Newman territory as Maxwell Joseph broke a 31-yard run on the first play of the drive. However, the Eagles' defense stuffed Joseph on fourth-and-1 at the 27 to keep the game tied at 14-14 with 4:49 left in the half.
After an exchange of punts, the Eagles took possession at their 45 with 1:38 left in the half. Second-string quarterback Tyler Thackerson hit Quinton Phillips for a 15-yard completion, then hand runs of 12 and 11 yards to put the ball into the red zone in the final seconds. Thackerson then found an open Devon Moore in the left corner of the end zone with five seconds remaining, as Eudy's PAT gave Carson-Newman a 21-14 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, an exchange of punts left the Pioneers starting their second drive at the Eagles 43. Tusculum would convert three third-down opportunities during the drive, with the third a 17-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Pistone to a wide-open Jacob Moss on the left side of the end zone with 7:11 left in the third quarter. However, Defatta's extra point was deflected by the Eagles' Montel Presley and landed in the end zone to keep Carson-Newman's lead at 21-20.
After a punt by the Eagles, the Pioneers moved quickly from their 14 to the Carson-Newman 43 on a completion of 25 yards from Pistone to Gary Breuklander and an 18-yard run by Shippy, but Tusculum was forced to punt and pinned the Eagles at their own 12 as the third quarter closed.
Tusculum caught a break on fourth down when the snap sailed through Koenig's hands and he was forced to hurry his punt, which landed behind the line of scrimmage before rolling to a halt at the Eagles' 41 for a net of three yards. From there, a penalty against Carson-Newman put the Pioneers at the Eagle 15, and three plays later Pratt spun in from a yard out to give Tusculum its first lead at 27-21 with 11:10 left.
A misplay on the ensuing kickoff trapped the Eagles at their own 5, and the Tusculum defense forced a punt that was downed at the Carson-Newman 47. On the very next play, Pratt broke loose from at least three tacklers on his way to his second rushing touchdown of the quarter and a 34-21 Pioneer lead with 9:02 left.
Carson-Newman struck back quickly, as Evans hit Romain Kelly for 27 yards followed a 57-yard catch-and-run over the middle from Evans to Phillips, which pulled the Eagles to within 34-28 with 8:18 on the clock.
Tusculum then marched 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 13-yard completion from Pistone to Ajay Belanger and a 37-yard run by Pratt down to the Eagles 2. After a stop for no gain on first-and-goal, Pratt burrowed through the pile for his third touchdown and a 41-28 Tusculum lead with 3:45 remaining.
With time working against them, the Eagles moved as far as the Pioneer 40 before an intentional grounding penalty on Evans and a sack by Louis and Devin Woodson on fourth down turned the ball back over to the Pioneers with 2:16 remaining. Pistone then iced the win with a sneak on fourth-and-1 as Tusculum ran out the clock to earn consecutive home wins against Carson-Newman for the first time since 2001 and 2003.
Pistone finished 7-for-18 for 90 yards and a touchdown for the Pioneers, while Evans was 3-for-8 for 107 yards and a score and Thackerson finished 2-for-4 for 32 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles. Both Carson-Newman quarterbacks were active on the ground, with Evans carrying 18 times for 42 yards and Thackerson 11 times for 45 yards.
Neither team had a receiver with more than two catches, as Breuklander and Belanger had two grabs each for Tusculum and Phillips and Moore made two receptions apiece for Carson-Newman.
Isaiah Dunn had eight tackles (seven solo) for the Pioneers, along with Colton Strickland who had three solo stops. Bryce Bartlett finished with six tackles (five solo) including two for loss. Tusculum's defense had 11 tackles for a total of 34 yards in losses, along with three sacks in 15 passing plays for the Eagles.
Temoris Coats, the leading tackler for the Eagles this season, finished with a team-high nine tackles and a half-sack. Desmond Fairell and Jordan Pryce had six tackles apiece for the Eagles, who collected just three tackles for loss and sacked Pistone twice.
Both punters battled rain and wind throughout the game, with Tusculum's Andrew Cantrell punting five times for a 34.4 yard average and Koenig finishing with a 31.1 average on seven kicks. Each punter placed two punts inside the opponents' 20 yard-line.
Carson-Newman went 4-for-15 on third-down conversions in the game, but were 0-for-5 in the second half. Tusculum was 3-for-11 on third downs, converting all three during their third-quarter touchdown drive.
Tusculum will step out of conference play to travel to Lexington, Virginia to face VMI on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1:30 p.m. The Keydets are the first FCS opponent for the Pioneers since a 62-21 loss at Georgia Southern on Sept. 10, 2011, but the Pioneers are 2-1 all-time against Southern Conference schools with wins over Western Carolina in 2010 (54-30) and Elon in 2003 (17-3).