The Lenoir-Rhyne Football Team advanced to the Super Region 2 Final for the second straight season with a 49-21 thumping of Carson-Newman on Saturday afternoon. The Bears started hot, scoring the first 28 points of the game and finished strong by scoring 21 straight to close it out. The Bears move to 8-1 all-time in home NCAA Playoff games and broke the program record for longest home winning streak at 15. The previous record of 14 stood since 1961.
The Bears forced a three-and-out on Carson-Newman's opening possession. On the ensuing punt, Preston Joseph broke through to record one of his two blocked punts on the game which Tre Luttrell scooped and returned 10 yards to put the Bears on top. For LR, it was the second straight week with a punt block returned for a touchdown with Luttrell finding the end zone both times.
The Luttrell score was one of four first quarter touchdowns for LR. Drake Starks caught a pair of touchdowns from Grayson Willingham and Ameen Stevens closed out the quarter with a 30-yard touchdown run.
Carson-Newman was resilient, storming back with an opportunistic second quarter. Taking advantage of two LR turnovers, the Eagles scored three times to cut the LR lead to 28-21. Derrick Evans ran in a 1-yarder and Braxton Westfield hauled in a pair of touchdown passes. Westfield was unstoppable, finishing with 10 catches for 139 and two touchdowns and had a pair of touchdowns called back due to penalty.
It was all Bears the rest of the way with Stevens recording three second half touchdowns. The sophomore RB finished with 128 yards for a second straight playoff game and added two catches for seven yards. The four TDs in a game are a career high for the Savannah, Ga. native who has 17 touchdowns on the year and 28 in 26 career games.
The defense held Carson-Newman to 117 yards rushing and just 2.4 yards per carry. The Eagles did account for 200 yards passing and outgained LR 317-291. However, CN turned the ball over twice on downs and lost four fumbles to go with having two punts blocked and allowing six sacks. On top of that, the visitors were flagged for 15 penalties accounting for 144 yards with two players being ejected.
Freshman WR Deondre Lester finished with a career-high 38 yards receiving on three catches. QB Grayson Willingham went 11-for-17 for 104 yards with a pair of TD strikes and one interception.
Jaquan Artis registered eight tackles, 2.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble to continue a standout senior season. On the year, the DE from Kinston, N.C. and SAC Defensive Palyer of the Year has 23 TFL and 14.5 sacks.
Quentin Hayes added 1.5 sacks to go with a forced fumble and Sherrod Williams tallied seven tackles and a tackle for loss.
The 13 wins matches the program record for most wins in a season.
This was the most points scored by the Bears in an NCAA Playoff game. The previous high was 43 against Florida Tech in 2018.
Lenoir-Rhyne improves to 25-2 over the past two seasons under head coach Drew Cronic. In that stretch, LR is outscoring opponents 1124-526.
Lenoir-Rhyne is now 8-4 all-time in the NCAA Playoffs. All five of the Bears NCAA appearances have come since 2012.
This is the third Regional Final appearance in team history. The Bears earned the right to host the Regional Final for the second time ever thanks to a last-second upset of top-seeded Valdosta St. by West Florida.
The Bears have won eight of the last nine matchups against Carson-Newman and are 2-1 against the Eagles in the NCAA Playoffs.
In the first meeting, LR jumped out to a 16-0 lead over Carson-Newman and outscored the Eagles 44-0 in the first quarter of their two matchups this season.
The win assures LR two straight seasons without a loss to a conference foe. The Bears own a 17-0 mark against league rivals since the start of 2018.
Lenoir-Rhyne is the last remaining two-seed to advance. Kutztown lost to Notre Dame (Ohio), 20-17.
LR, 13-0 on the season will take on West Florida for the first time in program history. A spot in the Final Four will be on the line as the two meet on Saturday inside Moretz Stadium.