Courtesy of Bentley Athletics
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Fourth-quarter touchdowns by sophomore Brendan Baker (Miami, Fla.) and junior Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.), and a second-half shutout by the Eagle defense, propelled Carson-Newman College, the 20th-ranked team in Division II, to a come-from-behind 35-28 win over Bentley University in non-conference college football Thursday night at steamy Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Spoiled by the loss was an impressive season-opening performance by Bentley senior quarterback Bryant Johnson (Hopedale, Mass./Milford HS), who threw for four touchdowns, two apiece to seniors John Malone (Walpole, Mass./Walpole HS) and Wade Critides (Wayland, Mass./Wayland HS).
Bentley, down 21-14 in the second quarter, finished the opening half strong with two scoring strikes from Johnson (his third and fourth of the half) to Critides sending the visitors into the halftime break up seven, 28-21. The first TD pass was good for 42 yards with Critides wide open at about the 20-yard line and the second covered 30 yards on a third-and-15 play. That latter drive came three plays after a 14-yard completion from Johnson to senior Kyle Tuthill (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas HS) on a fourth-and-10.
The turning point in the game came with about four-and-a-half minutes to play in the third quarter, with the Falcons holding onto a 28-21 lead. A punt by Chris Jones (Rome, Ga.) pinned Bentley back on its own one-yard-line. Johnson went deep on the very first play, a 44-yard completion to Malone, and a couple more Johnson passes made it first and goal at the three.
Johnson fumbled the pitch, pushing the ball back to the 11, and the Falcons had to settle for a 28-yard field goal attempt that missed wide right.
Bentley never threatened again and Carson-Newmanâ€™s prolific ground game took over, controlling the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the final quarter. The Eagles, who have led Division II in rushing the last two years, ran for 313 yards, with both Baker and Inman gaining 107 yards.
Carson-Newman struck first in the back-and-forth contest (four lead changes, four ties), with senior QB Doug Belk (Valdosta, Ga.) taking it in from the two about six minutes into the game. Bentley answered right back, with Johnson and Malone teaming up on a 10-yard TD pass. That capped a five-play, 57-yard drive that featured a nice catch by senior tight end Mike Slattery (Natick, Mass./Natick HS) and was aided by a Carson-Newman personal foul, one of nine Eagle penalties in the first half.
After Bentley regained the ball on a fumble recovery by junior linebacker Matt Welch (Woburn/Woburn HS), Johnson and Malone combined for another score, this time on a 12-yard pass. It came just one play after a holding call on Malone negated an apparent Falcon score.
Carson-Newman, a 2009 NCAA Division II playoff team that was coming off a 24-21 loss to Winona State in its opener on Saturday, regained the lead, 21-14, with two touchdowns in the first nine minutes of the second quarter, a 14-yarder by freshman Tyson Douglas (Clover, S.C.) and one of the same distance by Baker.
Johnsonâ€™s 347-yard effort saw the lefty complete 26 of 44 passes without an interception. Malone caught seven for 135 yards and Critides five for 98. Junior Bobby Tarr (Byfield, Mass./Bishop Fenwick HS) led the Bentley rushing game with 52 yards on nine carries.
The two clubs combined for 896 yards and 48 first downs. Carson-Newmanâ€™s big fourth gave the Eagles a 472-424 edge in total offense, and both clubs finished with 24 first downs.
Senior linebacker Greg Oâ€™Brien (Canton, Mass./Xaverian Brothers HS) led the Falcon defense with 15 tackles, and junior strong safety Don Hopkins (Waltham, Mass./Waltham HS) had both a sack and an interception in his first game since 2008.
Bentley, in the midst of a three-game road trip to launch the season, will visit 2009 FCS playoff participant Central Connecticut next Saturday.