Huge second half lifts Tusculum past Limestone

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GREENEVILLE, TN- Tusculum College scored touchdowns on its first five possessions of the second half to erase a halftime deficit and defeat Limestone College 34-13 Saturday afternoon in non-conference action from Pioneer Field.

Quarterback Luke Lancaster came off the bench at halftime and threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, while four different backs scored rushing touchdowns in the second half for the Pioneers (2-6), who had 291 yards of total offense in the second half after being held to 91 yards and no points in the first half.

D’Anta Fleming had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown for the Saints (5-3), who were held to 229 yards of total offense by the Pioneer defense and committed three turnovers. Quarterback Matthew Harkness went 15-for-34 for 167 yards and a touchdown along with three interceptions, while the Saints ground game totaled just 62 yards on 28 attempts (2.2 average).

Tony Belle led the Pioneers on the ground with 14 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. Tommy Brown, Jordon Shippy and Isaac Robinson added scores on the ground for the Pioneers, who finished the day with season highs in rushing yards (161), passing yards (221) and points in front of a large Homecoming crowd at Pioneer Field.

Tusculum received the opening kickoff, but turned the ball over on its first play from scrimmage as a pass from Malcolm Pendergrass was picked off by PJ Brown at the Limestone 42. The Saints were unable to move the ball and punted to the Pioneers as part of an exchange of four consecutive punts during the first quarter.

Limestone got the ball back at their own 48 with 6:53 left in the quarter, and moved 52 yards on six plays with Harkness connecting with Fleming in the end zone from 14 yards out to give the Saints a 7-0 lead with 4:32 left in the quarter.

Several more punts by both teams left the Pioneers with possession at the Saints 41 with 8:15 left in the second quarter. The Pioneers moved the ball inside the Limestone 30, but Raymond Hall stripped Evan Altizer at the Saints 11 and Joshua Simmons returned the ball 22 yards to his own 33. The Saints then chewed 5:26 off the clock and converted a fourth-and-8 and a third-and-10 en route to a 24-yard field goal from Thomas Cook that extended the Limestone lead to 10-0 with 28 seconds left until halftime.

The Saints received the second-half kickoff, but just as the Pioneers did in the first half they were intercepted on their first play. Jay Boyd picked off Harkness at the Limestone 41 and returned the ball to the Saints 14. Lancaster then made his first appearance of the day under center and hooked up withLorenzo Mitchell for 10 yards to the Limestone 4, and two plays later Belle surged in from five yards out to cut the Saints’ lead to 10-7 just 1:37 into the second half.

After a three-and-out by Limestone, Tusculum roared 72 yards on eight plays to take its first lead of the game. Lancaster completed passes of 11 and 9 yards to Rodnell Cruell while Belle had an 11-yard run during the drive, which culminated with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lancaster to Mitchell and a 13-10 Pioneer lead with 8:02 left in the third quarter.

Boyd came up with his second interception of the day as he picked off Harkness at his own 28 on a fourth-and-4 play, and the offense again responded by marching 75 yards in just four plays. Completions of 21 yards to William Boney and 31 yards to Altizer put the Pioneers at the Saints 2, and Shippy ran in for the touchdown to extend the Tusculum lead to 20-10 with 3:35 left in the third quarter.

Tusculum’s defense bent but did not break on Limestone’s next drive, which covered 75 yards and featured completions from Harkness to Fleming covering 35 and 12 yards, the latter setting up the Saints with first-and-goal at the 2. However, two incomplete passes, a short gain and a false-start penalty forced the Saints into a 23-yard field goal from Cook that pulled them within 20-13 with 14:50 remaining in the game.

The Pioneers responded with a grinding 14-play, 88-yard drive that saw Lancaster complete 6-of-9 passes for 67 yards, including first downs of 12 yards to Boney, 12 and 11 yards to Cruell and 13 yards to Barnes. The drive was capped by a 5-yard run from Robinson that extended the Tusculum lead to 27-13 with 6:37 to play.

A quick three-and-out by the Saints gave the Pioneers the ball back at the Limestone 40, and the ground game moved the ball all the way to the end zone as Brown picked through the defense from 15 yards away to push the Pioneers on top 34-13 with 5:15 left. Tusculum’s defense had one more answer for the Saints as Deres Benn picked off Harkness at the Limestone 48 with 3:18 to go, and the Pioneers ran down the clock to seal the victory over the Saints.

In addition to Belle’s 72 yards, the Pioneers also received 36 yards on six carries from Josh Jackson and 31 yards from Brown on three attempts. Boney was the Pioneers’ top receiver as he had a season-high five catches for 73 yards from his fullback position. Cruell had four receptions for 43 yards, while Altizer and Mitchell each had a pair of catches.

Daitwan Commodore was the top rusher for the Saints, with 25 yards on 11 carries. Harkness added eight carries for 22 yards on the ground, while Ga’Quan Maize ran the ball eight times for 16 yards. Vyncint Smith had four receptions for 44 yards as the number-two target behind Fleming for Limestone.

On defense, L’Keith Brown led the Pioneers with 13 tackles (five solo) with two tackles for loss. Benn had eight tackles (two for loss) and Brandon Williamshad seven tackles, including a sack, and two quarterback hurries. Brent Williams was also a force on the line for the Pioneers with four tackles (two for loss) and four quarterback hurries.

Limestone was led on defense by Hall, who had 13 tackles (eight solo), while Jabarus Saxon and Evan Patrick had seven tackles apiece. Yerko Castedo had the only sack for the Saints, and also forced a fumble in the first quarter that was recovered by the Pioneers.

Both punters battled windy conditions all day long, with the Pioneers’ Hunter Cantrell averaging 39.3 yards on three kicks and Alex Haynes averaging 33.0 yards on six boots for the Saints. Lancaster also had a 33-yard quick kick in the second quarter that pinned Limestone at its own 1-yard line.

Tusculum will resume its South Atlantic Conference schedule next Saturday when the Pioneers face their cross-mountain rival Mars Hill University on the road, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.

Courtesy: Tusculum Athletics

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