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No. 24 Eagles prep for battle for playoff berth, senior day versus Mars Hill

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(From Sports Information)

Carson-Newman (7-2, 4-2 SAC) football returns home for the first time in nearly a month for its senior day contest against Mars Hill (6-3, 5-1 SAC) with a berth in the Division II playoffs on the line.

The Lions are ranked third in the latest Super Region II standings, with the Eagles fourth. The winner of the contest will likely challenge Miles for the second spot in the standings and a first round bye. The loser will have to wait till Selection Sunday to see whether or not they too will play another week.

Regardless of the implications of the contest, Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks said it’s important to keep the game in perspective.

“It’s not any different from back when we played the first ball game, if we lose it we’re out of the playoff race,” Sparks said. “They all have the same importance. There’s not any play that’s not important, there’s not any game that’s not important.

The Eagles are coming off a 66-36 steamrolling of rival Tusculum where C-N rolled up more than 560 yards on the ground – the second highest total in Division II this season. Mars Hill had the week off after beating Tusculum in overtime 23-20 back on Oct. 27.

“(Mars Hill’s bye week) is valuable especially from the fact of getting people well and getting people wide open,” Sparks said. “I hope that they’ve been sitting around thinking about it and haven’t been practicing. But I’m afraid that they’ve been practicing a whole lot. They’re probably the most capable football team we’ve played so far.”

The matchup features the SAC’s number one offense in Carson-Newman, which picks up 475 yards a game, and the league’s number one defense in Mars Hill, which is giving up 343 yards per contest.

The Lions can boast of the conference’s leading rusher in Shaikel Davis, who has replaced Harlon Hill winner Jonas Randolph by averaging 118 yards on the ground. Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.) follows him with 108.7 yards/game.

The Eagles ride a five game winning streak into the game as they try to make the playoff push. Sparks said he just wants improvement week-to-week.

“I hope we’re making progress in doing what we’re coached to do better than we did it the last ball game,” Sparks said. “It’s interesting process when you’re working with 18 and 19 year olds to see if you can get it to where you want to get it to.”

With 23 sacks, no one has gotten to opposing quarterbacks more in the SAC than the Lions. The Mars Hill defense will challenge three seniors on offense who could potentially be playing in their final game at Burke-Tarr stadium.

All-SAC center Kevin Day (Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.), quarterback Brandon Haywood (Rockmart, Ga.) and wide out Jason Brown (Plant City, Fla.) join defenders Tarvin Jones (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Oliver Davis (Acworth, Ga.), Deshon Collins (Birmingham, Ala.) and Zack Fleming (Kingsport, Tenn.) as senior day celebrants.

Sparks said he hopes they get at least one more outing within the confines of Burke-Tarr because of the opportunities a playoff contest provides.

“It’s good for us to be able to spread the message of what we’re all about and what we’re trying to do. Regardless of what happens, we need to honor the Lord. It’ll be nice to have people here to help us to do that.”

The Eagles and Lions kickoff at 1 p.m. Coverage begins on the Coca-Cola Eagle Sports Network at noon with the Farm Bureau Tailgate Show. Fans can tune in to the CCESN’s flagship station Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) or log on to cneagles.com to watch the game.

For media inquiries, visit the University Relations page.

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