Bears keep rolling on in the playoffs

LR running back Ameen Stevens (45) trucks an Eagles’ defender en route to 4 TDs on the day on Saturday, November 30. (O-N-E photo by Brian Hendrix)
William Hewett
O-N-E Intern

The fortress of Moretz Stadium just added another victim at the expense of Carson-Newman on Saturday. The Bears picked up their 15th-straight win at home on Saturday and moved into the Super Region 2 Final.

Coming into their second consecutive national round of 16 match, on paper, the Lenoir-Rhyne football team looked like they would cruise through, but what occurred was anything but in a highly entertaining encounter.

The Bears (13-0) came out on fire in the first quarter, playing what some might say was a perfect quarter of football.

The Bears raced out to a 28-0 lead thanks to four touchdowns in the first quarter but credit to Carson-Newman as they raced back into the contest with a strong second quarter to reduce the margin to 28-21 at half-time.

The Bears came out in the second half and controlled the rest of the contest.

They were able to score 21 unanswered points to see off the Eagles in their 49-21 win at Moretz Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Bears started on fire on the opening possession of the game. After forcing the Eagles to kick the ball away, junior linebacker Preston Joseph blocked the kicked which was recovered by Tre Luttrell who took the ball into the end zone for the first TD of the day.

The Bears offense was on fire for the entire first quarter. After opening up with a blocked punt TD, the Bears scored three TDs in seven minutes to put them in control.

Quarterback Grayson Willingham threw a 14-yard pass to sophomore tight end Drake Starks to put the Bears up 14-0.

Starks and Willingham connected again to put the Bears up 21-0 after an 11-yard pass.

With just over a minute left in the first quarter, Bears’ running back Ameen Stevens got his first of what turned out to be four TDs for the day with a 30-yard run to make it 28-0.

Carson-Newman came out on fire in the second quarter but also got a lot of help from unforced errors from the Lenoir-Rhyne offense.

The LR offense coughed up the ball three times which all led to Eagles TDs. The Eagles scored off the back of an 11-play, 67-yard drive with a 1-yard TD for Derrick Evans to get them on the scoreboard.

The Eagles got back within two TDs with a spectacular TD via sophomore wide receiver Braxton Westfield who took a remarkable one-handed contested catch to make it 28-14 off a 16-yard TD pass.

Junior quarterback Tyler Thackerson connected on a 12-yard pass to Westfield once more to get his second TD of the day to make it 28-21 at half-time.

The LR faithful had nerves settled in the second-half which was dominated by LR and by one player, in particular, that was sophomore running back Ameen Stevens. LR’s 5-foot-9, 235-pound running back dominated the second half was strong carries and three TDs.

There was only one TD in the third quarter and it came through Stevens. Stevens received a 10-yard pass from Willingham to score with 8:16 left on the clock in the quarter to put the Bears up 35-21, giving themselves some breathing room.

In the fourth quarter, Stevens was able to grab his third and fourth TDs of the day with runs of 1 and 23 yards to blow the score out and cap off an impressive LR victory.

With the victory over the Eagles (9-3), the Bears broke the school record for the longest home winning streak at 15 wins. The previous record of 14 has stood since 1961.

The Bears also have the longest active winning streak at home in all of Division II football. LR also made history on Saturday by recording their 13 straight wins of the season which is the most in a single season in school history.

The Bears look to extend their season another week on Saturday when they take on West Florida who outlasted defending national champion Valdosta State, 38-35. The Bears are looking to reach the national semi-finals for the first time since 2013 where they lost in the championship game.

The Bears will stay at home for the match-up with West Florida on Saturday, December 7 at Moretz Stadium, which should be one entertaining encounter.