Offense shines, Gruber sets record in shootout loss to Carson-Newman

Box Score

BREVARD, N.C. – Two of Division II’s potent rushing offenses lived up to their billing in the first game played on the new artificial surface at Brevard Memorial Stadium, as Brevard and Carson-Newman combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense in a 55-42 Eagles win.

The 21st-ranked Eagles (2-1, 1-0 SAC) outgained Brevard (0-3, 0-1 SAC) 496-480 on the afternoon as the teams, which ranked third and sixth nationally in rushing yardage, respectively, coming into the game combined for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Kelvin Jeter had a game-high 162 rushing yards and Jordan Ollis added 133, marking the fifth straight game in which Brevard has had at least one 100-yard rusher.

While Modzelle Atkins had the best statistical game among the Tornados’ defenders, with a school-record two forced fumbles and two tackles for loss counted among his 11 stops, the day belonged to linebacker Michael Gruber.  The senior from Walterboro, South Carolina notched his 295th career tackle on a first-quarter takedown of running back Randall Freeman, surpassing Prince Simunyu for Brevard’s all-time lead.

Gruber would finish with eight stops on the day, making him the first Brevard player to surpass 300 tackles, and nabbed his fifth career interception on a pass over the middle by Carson-Newman’s De’Andre Thomas, setting up an eight-play, 33-yard scoring drive that would pull the Tornados to within 13 points early in the fourth quarter.

Andy Hibbett, who led the conference with an average of 138.5 rushing yards per contest coming into Saturday’s matchup, carried the load for the Eagles, netting 105 yards and two scores on just 13 carries for an 8.1-yard average. Thomas accounted for a quartet of touchdowns on the afternoon, throwing for 164 yards and a pair of scores while rushing for two more.

The game opened at a frenetic pace, with Carson-Newman finding the end zone just 15 seconds into the game on a 100-yard kickoff return by Lonnie Williams. A 33-yard run by Wright would knot the score at seven before the Eagles scored 14 unanswered points to take the lead for good.

Both teams committed a pair of turnovers, but Carson-Newman was able to effectively capitalize on Brevard’s mistakes. The Eagles scored on drives of 68 and 36 yards following Tornados’ turnovers in addition to the touchdown on the opening kickoff. The Eagles also scored on a one-play second-quarter drive following a failed fake punt attempt gave Carson-Newman the ball deep in Brevard territory.

Despite giving up nearly 500 total yards, the Tornados’ defense stiffened in the second half to give Brevard a chance to claw back into contention. The Eagles managed just 127 yards in the second half before a series of kneeldowns on the final drive after accumulating 350 total yards through two quarters.

Brevard counted several impressive scoring plays among its six touchdowns on the afternoon. Jeter had the longest touchdown from scrimmage for Brevard on a 59-yard scoring jaunt in the second quarter that saw him take a pitch from Wright and outrun several defenders to the near sideline. He then cut upfield between two would-be tacklers and sprinted across the middle of the field to find the end zone.

The Tornados also scored on a daring fourth down play to pull to within two touchdowns in the third quarter. With Carson-Newman leading 41-21, Brevard marched down the field with the help of an Ollis 29-yard explosion up the middle to take the Tornados into Eagle territory.

The Brevard drive seemed to stall out just outside the red zone, however. After a loss on first down, Kelvin Jeter fumbled a pitch from Wright, picked up the ball, and maneuvered back to the line of scrimmage. Wright was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down to set up a fourth and 22 from Carson-Newman’s 34. Wright stood tall in the pocket and delivered a strike to Zac Queen, who caught the ball inside the five-yard line and waltzed into the end zone to cut the Eagles’ lead to 41-28.

The Eagles salted the contest with a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive that put the game out of reach for Brevard. The Tornados had again cut the lead to two scores, this time on a two-yard scoring run by Wright, but Carson-Newman responded with a methodical drive that ended on a Hibbett nine-yard score and ate up over four minutes on the clock, making the score 55-35 with 9:46 to play.

Brevard will look for its first win of the season in Tigerville, South Carolina next Saturday as the Tornados travel to take on North Greenville in a 7:00 p.m. nonconference matchup. Brevard is 0-2 all-time against the Crusaders, falling by scores of 14-10 in 2012 and 41-28 last season. 

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