LEBANON, Tenn. – Jared White booted a 30-yard field goal with 2:31 remaining and Reed Gurchiek passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns, as 17th-ranked Cumberland won a seesaw contest, 36-34, over 14th-ranked Bethel University here Saturday at Lindsey Donnell Stadium-Kirk Field.
With the victory Cumberland (6-1, 3-0 Mid-South West) moved into first place in the division, one game ahead of Bethel and two in front of Union College and Shorter University, who both lost on Saturday. The Bulldogs play at Union next Saturday at 11 a.m. Central Time.
The contest had seven lead changes, mostly because the Bulldogs failed on two extra point attempts by Beau Baker, including one that was blocked and one that hit the left upright. Cumberland took a 33-20 advantage after Simon Moriarty forced a fumble that was recovered by Cody McCallister for a touchdown with 4:28 remaining in the third quarter.
“There were a lot of different big plays in the ballgame. Our guys hung in there, kept playing and answering the bell,” CU head coach Dewayne Alexander said. “It was kind of like an old heavyweight fight; someone would take a big swing and hit somebody and the other team would come right back and hit them again.”
But Bethel (5-2, 3-1) answered with a pair of touchdowns, the second one after Prennis Thompson’s interception and 23-yard return gave the Wildcats 1st-and-goal at the two-yard line. Two plays later 260-pound running back Dominique Allen barreled in for the score and a 34-33 BU lead with 7:20 left in the game.
Cumberland answered the bell though, methodically driving 59 yards on 11 plays and eating 4:49 off the clock. CU converted a pair of third downs on the drive but stalled at the Bethel 13, setting up White’s 30-yard game-winner that was right down the middle.
“Our guys made a big drive there at the end after the interception, a good answer. I thought Reed Gurchiek showed a lot of poise there after throwing the interception, not hanging his head but coming back, moving us down the field and a then big kick from Jared White for the win.”
The Wildcats still had plenty of time and two timeouts and took the ball at the Cumberland 46 after a 35-yard kickoff return from Patrick Cann, part of 170 yards in kick returns on the day for BU. A short rush and a short pass left Bethel with 3rd-and-6 and Will Masoud overthrew Cann down the left sideline after scrambling away from pressure. Masoud was pressured again on fourth down and his throw to Delano fell off the receiver’s hands and incomplete.
Bethel got the ball back one more time, but with only five seconds remaining. They tried the hook-and-ladder but it did not work and after a lot of running around and two laterals, McCallister fell on a fumble to end the contest.
Gurchiek, a Mt. Juliet, Tenn., native, enjoyed his best game as a Bulldog, completing 26-of-35 passes for 294 yards and three TDs, two of them to DeJeay Woods, who caught nine balls for 78 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury. The Bulldogs rushed 39 times in the contest for 152 yards and one score, done by committee as usual, with Tim McCord leading the way with 15 carries for 57 yards.
The Bulldogs piled up 446 yards of total offense to just 283 for Bethel, but the Wildcats had short fields on many occasions because of the great kickoff returns. The visitors drove 37, 47 and 49 yards for touchdowns in the contest.
Masoud finished 11-of-20 for 126 yards and one touchdown and also scored one TD with a quarterback sneak. Cordarious Mann rushed 23 times for 88 yards and a score, while Cann carried 11 times for 50 yards and one TD.
The Bulldogs took the opening possession of the game 86 yards on eight plays, with Gurchiek completing all four of his passes. The big play was a shuffle pass to Quan Johnson for 40 yards, a play where he broke out to the left and got a good block from Woods, allowing him to reach the four yard line. Adrian Baker carried the final four yards for the touchdown.
Bethel answered with a scoring drive of its own, going 64 yards on six plays. Masoud completed both passes for 54 yards on the drive before Cann rushed four yards for the touchdown, tying the game at seven with 7:51 remaining in the opening quarter.
Cumberland came right back with a 15-play, 86-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock. Woods caught a short pass on the right side, broke a tackle at the 10 and went the rest of the way for a 21-yard score. Bethel’s Joey Dienye blocked the extra point, giving CU a 13-7 lead.
The Wildcats answered a second time after a 41-yard kickoff return from Cann. Six plays later Cann avoided several tacklers on a screen pass, going 13 yards for the score and giving BU a 14-13 advantage early in the second period.
The Bulldogs scored again late in the half, with Gurchiek hitting Woods on a post route for 37 yards for the TD. Gurchiek’s pass to Courtland Styles was high on the two-point try and CU took a 19-14 advantage to intermission.
Bethel took the opening drive of the second half just 47 yards for the score after a short kickoff and a 22-yard return by Chase Horton. Six plays later Mann rushed 11 yards around left end for the score. Mann was stopped short on the two-point try up the middle and the Wildcats led 20-19.
Cumberland answered this time, marching 72 yards on eight plays for the score. Ryan Slack caught a tight end screen to the left and broke a tackle for a 17-yard score. He also caught the two-point try, giving CU a 27-20 lead.
The Bulldog defense forced the first turnover of the game on Bethel’s next possession, as the Wildcats started at their seven after a penalty on the kickoff. Mann rushed left, broke a tackle but met a swarm of Bulldog tacklers. Morairty’s tackle forced the fumble, which rolled into the end zone and McCallister recovered it for a touchdown. The extra point hit the left upright and Cumberland led 33-20 late in the third quarter.
This time Bethel answered with another touchdown, taking advantage of another short field after a 31-yard kickoff return from Nathaniel Brooks. The big play on the drive was a 16-yard completion to Keenan Nance on 3rd-and-13. Two plays later Masoud sneaked in from inside the one-yard line for the score, cutting the deficit to 33-27.
After fumbles on consecutive plays by both teams, the Bethel defense made its mark on the game with an interception from Thompson. He stepped in front of an out-route on 3rd-and-9, tipped the pass to himself and returned it to the five. He fumbled on the play but the Wildcats recovered.
Two plays later Allen rumbled in from two yards out and with the extra point, Bethel took a 34-33 lead with a little more than seven minutes left.