Bulldogs upset No. 11 Lambuth, 29-26
LEBANON, Tenn. – Michael Hinson’s 27-yard field goal as time expired provided Cumberland with 29-26 victory over 11th-ranked Lambuth Saturday at Lindsey Donnell Stadium. With the win the Bulldogs claim a share of the Mid-South Conference West Division championship.
On a cold and windy day with a very sloppy field, the two teams combined for seven turnovers, all in the first half. There was also a punt blocked, a punter who dropped a snap for a big loss and big plays by both teams, including a 94-yard catch and run by CU’s James McClain that tied the contest with 5:43 remaining in the game.
Hinson’s field goal was his third of the game and none bigger for Cumberland (6-5, 4-1 MSC West). The junior booted 29 and 21-yard three-pointers in the first half but also had an extra point blocked after McClain’s tying TD.
The Cumberland defense limited a Lambuth offense that was averaging more than 50 points per game to just 26 despite 90 snaps and 405 yards of total offense for the Eagles. There were six lead changes in the contest as well as two extra points that no good, one missed by Lambuth and the block off the foot of Hinson.
CU quarterback Matt Eads completed 15-of-38 passes for 316 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for another score. McClain ended with six catches for 167 yards and a score, while the Bulldogs rushed for 121 yards on 34 carries.
Lambuth ran 57 times for 195 yards, including 102 on 18 carries by quarterback Josh Garza. He also completed 18-for-29 for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs got on the board on the opening drive of the game for CU. Eads hit Travis Carter on a 33-yard pass and run that set up Hinson’s 29-yard field goal for a 3-0 Cumberland lead.
Lambuth took the lead midway through the first period on a long run from the quarterback. The Eagles caught Cumberland in an all-out blitz. Once Garza broke through the defensive line, he saw plenty of daylight and weaved his way to the endzone on a 32-yard run for a 7-3 Lambuth advantage.
Cumberland got great field position after LU punter J.T. Donovan dropped the snap on a punt. The Bulldogs took over at the Lambuth 32 and methodically drove inside the five, but the Eagles dropped J.T. Majors for a loss on second down and Eads had to throw away the third down pass. Hinson booted through a 21-yard field goal early in the second quarter, cutting the LU lead to 7-6.
On the ensuing possession Lambuth rushed 11 straight times and reached the CU five yard line, but the Bulldog defense stiffened, stopping a pair of plays at the five and forcing the Eagles into a field goal attempt. But Ryan Nanney’s 23-yard attempt went wide right, keeping Lambuth from adding to its lead.
Cumberland drove down the field later in the second period and lined up for a 39-yard field goal, but a false start penalty backed up the try five yards. Lambuth’s 6-foot, 5-inch Johnathan Holston then blocked the attempt but the ball was downed inside the five yard line with less than two minutes left in the half.
On third down Garza’s pass was intercepted by CU’s Darius Johnson, setting up the Bulldogs at the 38. Eads hit Michael Moore for what looked like a touchdown, but Jonathan Baptist made the tackle for LU at the one yard line. With just 23 seconds left, Eads handed to Majors on a quick handoff, but the ball came flying out and was recovered by the Eagles, negating a great scoring chance for Cumberland and keeping the score 7-6 heading to intermission.
Cumberland took the opening possession of the second half and scored. Another catch and run to Carter was the big play on the drive, and Carter’s sweep around the right side from six yards out put the Bulldogs ahead. Another sweep, this one to the right side by McClain, gave CU a 14-7 advantage.
But the Eagles came right back with their own scoring drive, capped by a 13-yard TD pass from Garza to Brandon Okechukwu. The two-point conversion was no good and Cumberland held a one-point lead.
Lambuth took its next possession and drove for another touchdown, with Garza hitting Shane Smith in the front corner of the endzone for a 10-yard score. Again the two-point conversion failed and the Eagles led 19-14 in the third quarter.
Cumberland responded again with perhaps its best drive of the contest, going 56 yards on 13 plays. Eads hit McClain for 22 yards on a big third down, setting up 1st-and-goal at the three yard line. Eads sneaked in for the touchdown on second down, but his two-point pass to Josh Crouch was high and the Bulldogs held a 20-19 advantage at the end of three quarters.
Lambuth came right back with an 11-play, 66-yard drive to retake the lead, with Garza hitting Landon Talley in the end zone for the score and a 26-20 Eagles advantage.
The Bulldogs had to punt on their next drive but held Lambuth and took possession at its own six yard line. Eads hit McClain in stride on a slant route and with a good block from Carter, McClain outran everyone down the sideline for the touchdown.
On Lambuth’s next possession near midfield, they ran a fake punt that came up maybe the length of the football short of the first down. Cumberland drove the field for the winning points on the final play of the game.
Cumberland still has an outside chance of making the playoffs, depending on what happens Saturday night in the Shorter College-Bethel College game at 7 p.m. at Bethel. The announcement for the NAIA playoffs is set for 2 p.m. Sunday.