American Football

LR football aims to continue recent success against Carson-Newman

The Lenoir-Rhyne football team opened South Atlantic Conference play with a 42-20 road win last week at Erskine, but on Saturday the Bears return home for their third game at Moretz Stadium in the first four weeks of the season. And for the 57th straight season, LR will battle rival Carson-Newman, which visits Hickory after a 59-0 home loss to the Bears a year ago.

But this is a much different Carson-Newman team than the one LR faced in 2021, as over 40 transfers have joined the Eagles program, including their new starting quarterback. The Bears are ranked 18th in the American Football Coaches Association poll and are off to a 2-1 start, which includes a 1-0 record in SAC competition, while the Eagles are 1-2 and 0-1.

Saturday’s game is set for 6 p.m. and will feature the 65th meeting all-time between LR and Carson-Newman, with the Eagles holding a 44-20 advantage in the series, but LR having won nine of the last 10 meetings and four in a row .

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“I think they had a little bit of a lack of identity on offense last year and they’ve built it back up,” LR coach Mike Jacobs said of Carson-Newman during the Bears’ weekly Facebook Live show Thursday. “Let’s not forget Carson-Newman won championships and they won a bowl and there was a long stretch where they beat LR multiple years in a row (the Bears lost 31 straight from 1979-2009) so our kids are aware of the history of this game and what it means not only for our players and our football program, but in terms of a rivalry. They are fully aware that last year was one of a kind, this Carson Newman team is significantly better.

At QB for the Eagles is senior Ivan Corbin, who began his college career at Limestone before transferring to Georgia Southern and then Tusculum. In three games for Carson-Newman, the dual-threat signal-caller has completed 28-of-49 (57.1%) passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns while carrying the ball 42 times for 210 yards and two additional scores.

Corbin is the leading rusher for a team that leads the SAC with 735 rushing yards. Meanwhile, junior TJ King has 188 yards and two TDs on 42 carries, sophomore Tyree Nelson has 110 yards and a score on 14 carries and junior Vontae Brackett has 103 yards and a TD on 17 carries.

“Their running backs run the ball extremely hard,” Jacobs said. “And with the fact that a former All-American for us, Joe Ray (2016 LR grad), is their offensive line coach, they’re going to be ready to play and our guys know that. We understand that this is a much different Carson-Newman team than the one we went up and played last year.”

Jacobs also talked about Carson-Newman’s leading receiver, senior Braxton Westfield. The only member of the Eagles roster with more than three catches, the South Carolina native has 18 receptions for 221 yards and two TDs.

“We’re going to have to control the line of scrimmage, plain and simple,” Jacobs said. “… If we can win the line of scrimmage and can win the turnover battle then LR will have a great chance to win on Saturday.”

The Bears’ defensive front seven performed well in 2022, totaling 24 of the team’s 29 tackles for loss. Junior defensive end Zeke Nance has four tackles for loss, while sophomore DT Andre Jefferson and freshman defensive end Ezekiel Campbell each have 3.5 tackles for loss. The trio also combined for 6.5 sacks.

“I’m really proud of our defensive line group,” said Jacobs, whose D-line also includes the likes of senior Rashad Yelding, redshirt freshman DJ Taylor, redshirt sophomore Cam Gordon and redshirt sophomore Tony Black. “Coach (Sean) Chaffee is doing a great job with these guys.”

Additionally, sophomore lineman Devin Hibbitt is tied with senior linebacker Malik Taylor for the team lead in tackles with 19. Eleven of Hibbitt’s tackles were solo stops and he also has two tackles for loss.

“Between him and John Ross (May) and Percy King, we’ve got some good experience there (at fullback),” Hibbitt’s Jacobs said. “… Coach (Caleb) Padilla has done a good job of getting those guys up to speed who haven’t played that much, and he plays with great leverage, plays with good eyes and finishes and handles the football well, which is really crediting his success right now.”

Offensively, sophomores Sean White, Dwayne McGee and Kaelyn Parsons had big games for LR against Erskine. White completed 21 of 34 passes for 291 yards and two scores, while McGee finished with 118 yards and two TDs on 20 carries and Parsons had 91 yards and two scores on four receptions to go with a 45-yard rushing TD . Junior wide receiver Deondre Lester also had a strong performance with seven catches for 95 yards.

Additionally, LR’s special teams play has been solid through the first three weeks. The Bears have already blocked multiple kicks to go with safety and good work from kicker Jonathan Medlin and Michael Owen, a freshman and redshirt sophomore, respectively.

Medlin has converted all 11 of his extra point attempts and is 2 for 3 on a field goal with a long of 36 yards, while Owen has punted 17 times for 689 total yards with a long of 68 and six punts that have pinned opponents to their own 20-yard line. yard. Owen also handles kickoff duties for the Bears and has recorded seven touchdowns on 16 kickoffs.

“Tony Baldessare does a great job with our special teams and really all of our coaches have some aspect of one of the different special areas,” Jacobs said. “But more than anything, it was buy-in from our players. It’s been a health and depth issue for us because we were a little scrappy and battered last year at times and that contributed to some ailments on our special teams just because we weren’t as deep and we didn’t have as many guys ready to go, but those kids did a great job.”

Josh McKinney is the sports editor for the Hickory Daily Record.