GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum football team jumped out to a 25-0 lead and held on at the end as Pioneers upset 12th-ranked Wingate 25-17 Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field.
With the victory, Tusculum (5-5, 3-4 SAC) secures a top-tier finish in the South Atlantic Conference standings for a second straight year as the Pioneers tied for fourth for a second consecutive year. TC also claimed its first non-losing campaign since 2014 when the Pioneers went 6-5.
Wingate (9-1, 6-1 SAC) is denied its first undefeated regular season in program history as the Bulldogs had already claimed the outright league title a week ago. Wingate, who entered this week as the top-ranked team in NCAA Division II Super Region Two, will learn its playoff seeding later this weekend.
Tusculum quarterback Alex Ogle paced the offense as he went 19-of-25 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, sophomore running back Tommy Brown rushed for a career-high 101 yards on 20 carries for the Black and Orange.
The TC defense and special teams did an outstanding job in holding the high-octane Bulldog squad in-check. The defense had three takeaways, recorded a safety and sacked the quarterback four times in the victory.
Wingate running back Lawrence Pittman, the SAC's top-rusher entering the game (124.8 ypg) was held 100 yards under his average as he accounted for 24 yards on his 14 attempts.
Wingate quarterback Dylan Williams was a one-man wrecking crew for Wingate as he passed for 239 yards going 23-for-41 with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Tusculum took the opening kickoff and marched down the field deep into Wingate territory. Tommy Brown's 38-yard run put the Pioneers at the WU 37. Tommy Brown hauled in an 18-yard pass on third down and Rodnell Cruell followed with a 17-yard catch to get to the WU two-yard line. A costly false start on second and goal from the one-yard line, pushed the Pioneers and would eventually settle for a 20-yard Gabe Shillings field goal as TC led 3-0 at the 9:24 mark of the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wingate was whistled for an illegal block as the Bulldogs started at their own 10 yard line. Williams dropped back to pass on the first play but was hurried into a throw by JaQuinton Alston-Thompson. Williams throw did not make it back to the line of scrimmage and by rule was whistled for intentional ground while in the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 5-0 Tusculum lead.
Tusculum took the free kick and return it to the TC 45. Ogle found Chavis Williams on a 45-yard completion to the Wingate 10. TC would be flagged for holding moving the ball to the 20-yard line. On a play action pass, Ogle found Conner Johnston in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Tusculum went for the two-point try, but was unsuccessful as the Pioneers led 11-0 with 7:36 left in the frame.
Wingate looked to get its offensive legs underneath them driving to the TC 28. But on fourth down and eight, Williams was intercepted by L'Keith Brown to stop the Bulldog drive.
Early in the second quarter, TC took over at its own 30-yard line. The Pioneers took advantage of a pass interference call against the Bulldogs and Ogle completed a 24-yard rollout pass to Jordon Shippy who sprinted to the WU 23. Two plays later, Ogle notched his second TD pass of the game with his pass to tight end Gary Breuklander, who caught the ball on the left sideline and lunged for the pylon for his 22-yard touchdown. Shillings' kick gave Tusculum an 18-0 lead with 8:42 left before halftime.
After Wingate would punt on its next possession, the Pioneers orchestrated a seven-play, 68-yard drive, culminating with Will Boney's one-yard run up the middle for the score and a 25-0 lead with 3:32 left.
The Bulldogs looked to have captured some momentum heading into the intermission. Wingate got a six-yard quarterback keeper up the middle by Williams as he steam-rolled his way into the end zone for the score with 14 seconds left. Freddy McCollum's kick made it 25-7 Tusculum at halftime.
Wingate added a third quarter touchdown on Williams' 13-yard pass to Jake Jensen at the 2:02 mark of the period as the Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to 25-14.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wingate drove into Tusculum territory thanks to pass completions of 11 and nine yards from Williams to Malik Bledsoe. A TC pass interference call moved the Bulldogs to the TC 37. But the Tusculum defense bowed up from there and Wingate turned the ball over on downs on Williams' incomplete pass on fourth down at the TC 31.
Tusculum went three and out, but looked to get a break when Wingate's BJ Muckelvene muffed a punt but was recovered by teammate Raymond Owens at the WU 9.
The Bulldogs moved once again into TC territory, but on first down from the TC 35, Williams was stripped of the football by Colton Strickland, which was gathered in by TC's Josh Forrest to thwart the Wingate drive with 4:44 left.
The Pioneers looked to be driving to put the game away, but one first down from the WU 41, Tim Longmire crushed Ogle in the backfield, causing a fumble which was recovered by Auntrell Mack at midfield with 3:26 to go.
The Bulldogs drove to the TC 10 and had it first and goal from there. But three incomplete passes, including two drops by Bledsoe, including one in the end zone and Wingate would have to settle for a 27-yard field goal by McCollum as the Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to a single possession at 25-17 with 1:50 left on the scoreboard.
The Pioneers recovered the on-side kick and would try and milk as much time off the clock. Three running plays and two Wingate timeouts later, the Pioneers would be forced to punt. Cantrell got off a dandy 38-yard punt under pressure which was downed at the WU 12. A Wingate personal foul on the play moved the football to the WU 6.
Tusculum was flagged for pass interference and roughing the passer on back-to-back plays as Wingate, who had no timeouts, was driving. A 14-yard completion to Blake Hayes and an 11-yard strike to Adam Riley as Williams gave the Bulldogs a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. With six seconds left and the ball sitting at the TC 41. Williams rolled out and heaved a desperation toss to the end zone. But TC's Malik Goodman hauled in the interception on the game's final play as the Pioneers knocked off its first nationally-ranked team since the Bulldogs last visited TC two years ago.
Wingate out-gained the Pioneers offensively by a 367-350 margin. Both teams combined for 21 penalties for 219 yards (WU 11-121, TC 10-98).
Gates led the Pioneers with his four receptions for 53 yards, while Rodnell Cruell had three grabs for 42 yards.
Tusculum records its 13th win in program history over a ranked foe, and first since TC's 26-17 homecoming win over the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs in 2015. Of those 13 victories, three have come at the expense of Wingate.