TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
Special to the Times-Tribune
WILLIAMSBURG — The University of the Cumberlands (UC) football team came into their NAIA FCS Semifinal round matchup against Carroll College looking for a first in school history.
The Patriots have already rewritten history this season with a No. 1 ranking and a 12-0 record. The Patriots earmed a 34-27 overtime win to earn a trip to the NAIA National Championship for the first time in school history.
When you get to the final four in any sporting event, you can expect a battle. The best way to describe this game was a heavyweight title fight that saw each team give its best shot. The first quarter was a clear example, as each team exchanged offensive possessions without any team finding the end zone as the Patriots were shutout for the first time in the first quarter all season.
Carroll College wasted no time in the 2nd quarter though as they capped off a six-play, 69-yard touchdown drive off with a Dustin Rinker touchdown run, giving Carroll the 7-0 lead.
UC answered right back on the next possession as Hunter Lewis put it in from six yards out. The missed extra point by Al Merrick made the score 7-6 with 9:00 to go in the first half.
On the next drive, the Saints seemed to find their form as they drove it all the way down to the UC 12-yard line before the bend-not-break motto of the Michael Collins’ defense held to form as they held the Saints to a field goal to make it 10-6 Carroll with 4:00 to go in the half. Both teams exchanged possessions before UC got the ball back with a minute to go in the half. After a 37-yard pass from Adam Craig to Willie Gibson, D’Angelo Jordan then took the rush attempt 12 yards for a touchdown, giving UC a 13-10 lead going into halftime.
When great teams play like the caliber of the Patriots and the Saints, you can expect halftime adjustments and taking advantages of opportunities. This was exactly what happened in the second half. The Patriots came out looking to capitalize off the momentum from the late touchdown in the first half. They used that momentum as they capped off the three-play, 71-yard touchdown drive with a 63 yard quarterback keeper by Adam Craig to make it 20-10 Patriots.
UC then looked to be in good shape on the Carroll possession as they forced them to a quick three and out and looked to get the ball back up 20-10 and with all the momentum.
Iquan Deed muffed the punt return and Carroll recovered it at the UC 35-yard line, giving the Saints great field position.
Carroll wasted no time as they scored on a two-play drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass.
It seemed like momentum was swinging in the Saints favor as they stopped UC on a fourth down attempt at the Carroll 20-yard line. Carroll came right back as their offense seemed to find its form as they scored on a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass, taking a 24-20 lead with 2:00 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots turned their momentum quickly back to their side with a tiring 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that ended with a one-yard Adam Craig touchdown run to make it 27-24 early in the fourth quarter.
Carroll came right back, but the defense came back to life as they forced the Saints to a field goal to tie it up 27-27 with 10:00 left in the fourth period.
Both teams exchanged possessions as it looked like UC would get the ball back with just enough time for a game winning touchdown drive. The Saints held the Patriots to a three-and-out and a chance for the Saints to have a game-winning drive themselves.
After a punt that gave Carroll the ball back at their 43-yard line, it looked like the Saints were in great position to win the game. It wasn’t meant to be as two huge sacks by Carson Newman on consecutive plays ended regulation with a 27-27 score.
This was the first overtime game for UC since 2007 against Virginia-Wise, where the Patriots came out on top 41-38. This was also the first OT game at UC since 2006 against UVA-Wise, where UC came out the victor 40-34.
Head Coach John Bland was all smiles after the game.
“I just love this team,” Bland said. “They are special guys and I look forward to coaching them every day.
“This is a huge win for our program and a program defining moment,” he added. “Now, we just have one more game to go to reach our ultimate goal of winning a national championship.”