Lenoir-Rhyne faces Carson-Newman in second round
For the second time this season, the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears will travel to Jefferson City, Tenn., to take on South Atlantic Conference (SAC) foe Carson-Newman.
"We will be very challenged going into Jefferson City for the second time," said Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Mike Houston. "They (Carson-Newman) have a tradition with the playoffs and making deep runs. They're used to being where they are."
When the two teams meet on Saturday, much more will be at stake than the first meeting. This time, both teams are in a "do or die" situation. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs, while the loser will see its season come to an end.
"We're going to have to play better than we did on Saturday and execute better on both sides of the ball," said Houston. "We're going to have to grind out a tough, close, hard-nosed football game. It's the two top rushing teams in the nation. It's going to be a classic game."
In the first meeting on Sept. 15, Carson-Newman defeated Lenoir-Rhyne 47-23. However, the Bears were without starting quarterback Reuben Haynes and starting outside linebacker Chris Carter.
"We are a much better team than we were back then," said Houston. "Both teams are much improved. We are also a lot more healthy this time around."
Last week, the No. 3 seed Bears won their first playoff game in 50 years with a 21-6 home victory over Fort Valley State. Carson-Newman had a bye in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the region.
Offensively, these two teams are very similar. Both run the triple option and both are very deadly. As a matter of fact, the Eagles lead the nation in rushing with 378 yards per game. Carson-Newman also has the SAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year in starting quarterback Brandon Haywood. Sitting right behind them at second in the nation is Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears average 372 yards per game on the ground.
"The team that can control the line of scrimmage and run the ball effectively is the team that's going to win," Houston said.
However, the Bears have the advantage on defense. Lenoir-Rhyne is eighth in the country in rush defense, allowing just 94 yards per game. Carson-Newman is not ranked in the top 50 in the country, as the Eagles give up 175 yards per game. The Bears also have the advantage in turnover ratio. Lenoir-Rhyne is plus-14 in turnovers, while the Eagles are just plus-3. The Bears also have three defensive touchdowns on the season, including a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by Michael Green on Saturday against Fort Valley State.
"Turnovers and time of possession will be huge factors this week," said Houston. "The quarterback play will be a major factor in both of those categories."
Lenoir-Rhyne and Carson-Newman will battle for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday in Jefferson City, Tenn. at noon. The winner will play either Valdosta State or West Alabama.