GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Wingate University defense posted a school-record 12 sacks and forced three turnovers as the undefeated Bulldogs knocked off host Tusculum University 27-10 Saturday night at Pioneer Field in the South Atlantic Conference opener for the both teams.
Wingate (3-0, 1-0 SAC) scored 10 points off of Tusculum miscues including 66-yard scoop and score fumble return by Tre Morrison in the fourth quarter to swing the momentum back to the visitors, who posted their fourth consecutive win over the Pioneers (2-1, 0-1 SAC).
The 12 sacks breaks the previous single-game mark of 10 recorded by the Bulldogs against Tusculum in 2003.
Kicker Ethan Evans was a tremendous weapon for the Bulldogs as he accounted for nine points connecting on field goals of 28 and 40 yards and was a perfect 3-of-3 on extra points. Evans, who also entered tonight's game as the nation's top punter, added to his numbers, averaging 51 yards on his six punts including four covering over 55 yards while pinning TU inside the 20-yard line four times including three inside the 10. Four of his six kickoffs also went for touchbacks.
Tusculum outgained Wingate in total yardage by a 248-212 margin but the Bulldogs did not commit a turnover and held TU to 3-of-16 on third-down conversions.
Jaquan Edwards led Wingate with 11 tackles including nine solo hits, while Marquise Fleming and DJ Horne recorded three sacks apiece. Fleming notched nine stops while forcing two fumbles and tallied a game-high three QB hurries.
Tusculum linebacker Wesley Scott had a season-high nine tackles including eight solos and two hits behind the line of scrimmage. Jermaine Witherspoon also made nine tackles, while Trejen Fox-Birdwell totaled six tackles including 1.5 for loss with a sack.
Tusculum quarterback Tre Simmons went 25-for-42 for 234 yards and a touchdown while completing passes to 11 different receivers. Wingate's Shaw Crocker went 7-of-16 for 64 yards and two touchdowns and was sacked twice.
WU's Alexander Wilson led all players with his 63 rushing yards on 11 carries. TU's top ball carrier was Cortney Jackson who totaled 31 yards on five attempts. Thanks to the 12 sacks, Tusculum was limited to 14 rushing yards on the evening.
Simmons was intercepted by Morrison on the first offensive play of the game setting up the Bulldogs at the TU 34. Tusculum was called for a pass interference call on the first play of the Wingate series, but the Bulldog drive would stall there and WU would settle for a 28-yard field goal by Evans for a 3-0 lead at the 13:20 mark of the quarter.
Later in the period, Crocker orchestrated an eight-play, 58-yard drive which was capped off by a 17-yard TD toss to Myles Dillon to move the lead to 10-0 with 1:15 left in the frame.
In the second quarter, Evans downed a punt at the one-yard line to forced Tusculum to go the length of the field. The Pioneers went three-and-out and got a 14-yard punt return by Ra'Quan Simmons setting up the Bulldogs at the TU 26. Five plays later, Crocker hit Trevor Bryan in the back corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 17-0 with 7:26 left in the half.
Tusculum would be forced to punt on its next possession and Wingate's drive into TU territory stalled at the 35. Evans' 52-yard field goal attempt went wide right as the Pioneers took over at the 35 with 2:15 left.
The Pioneers went to the hurry up as TU drove into Wingate territory thanks to an 18-yard completion to Tyler Ajiero and a 19-yard strike to Lanadrick Bradley. Tusculum would have to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Juan Villasenor as the Pioneers trailed 17-3 heading into the locker room.
The teams exchanged punts to start the second half. Wingate would put together a 12-play possession moving to the TU 23 before the drive stopped. Evans came on and connected on a 40-yard field goal to extend the lead to 20-3 with 6:23 left in the third.
The Pioneers put together their best drive of the game as TU marched 65-yards on 12 plays culminating with a two-yard pass to tight end Will Shellenback on fourth down and goal to cut the deficit to 20-10 at the 2:01 mark of the quarter. TU converted three first downs including once on third down and another on fourth down. The big play of the drive was a 25-yard carry by Jackson.
In the fourth quarter, Eddie Watson returned an Evans' punt 28 yards to the WU 39. The Pioneers drove to the Wingate 26, but on Simmons' pitch on an option play went to the turf and was picked up by Morrison who scampered 66 yards to the end zone with 9:39 remaining.
The Pioneers didn't give up as the offense marched 55 yards to the WU 13, but Fleming sacked Simmons who fumbled and was recovered by Justin Rhodes with under six minutes remaining for the Bulldogs.
Wingate milked 2:38 off the clock on its next possession and were forced to punt. Tusculum would convert three first downs on its final drive, but Simmons would be sacks three more times including by DJ Horne on the game's final play.
Justice Parham led all receivers with five catches for 50 yards, while Ajiero accounted for 57 yards on his four receptions.
Tusculum punter Andrew Cantrell averaged 42.4 yards on his seven punts making him only the third player in school history with over 200 punt attempts in a career. He also posted one punt inside the 20, giving him 67 for his career, which are four away from breaking the school record held by his older brother Hunter Cantrell (70).
Tusculum returns to action next Saturday when they travel to Salisbury, North Carolina to face the Catawba Indians for a 4 p.m. kickoff at Shuford Stadium.