NEWBERRY — The Wolves jumped out to a 19-0 lead, but a suffocating Mars Hill defense in the second half and several sustained, methodical Lions’ drives helped Mars Hill come back for a 20-19 win in a key South Atlantic Conference battle at Setzler Field.
Newberry (1-4, 1-2 SAC) scored its first touchdown just 45 seconds into the contest and led 19-0 after four scoring drives in the game’s first 21 minutes. But the Lions (3-2, 2-1 SAC) held firm from that point onward and benefited from a flurry of points late in the second quarter.
The Wolves used a 47-yard return of the opening kickoff and a seven yard reception, both by Chance Walker, to set up a pass from Colton Bailey to a wide-open Austin Gordon, who had slipped into the middle of the Lions’ defense and was all alone on a 38-yard touchdown reception less than a minute from the opening kick.
Two plays later, Nick Yearwood picked off a Mars Hill pass to set up a 39-yard field goal by Shea Rodgers to push the lead to 10-0. Mars Hill’s next two drives ended in turnovers on downs inside the Newberry red zone, to which the Wolves responded with a nine-play, 78-yard drive for another Rodgers field goal.
A fumble forced by Yearwood and recovered by Trey Woods gave the Wolves the ball at the Lions’ 25 before Bailey found Bryson Woodruff, who slipped out of several tackles to find the end zone and give the Wolves a 19-0 lead with 9:22 remaining in the second quarter.
Mars Hill’s ensuing 15-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes set the tone for the rest of the game. The Lions would finish 8-for-15 on third down conversions, going 2-for-2 on the drive, and found the end zone to trim the deficit to 12.
A Newberry fumble on the first play of their drive gave Mars Hill the ball on the 30-yard line, which the Lions turned into seven points on their first snap. The momentum-shifting sequence saw the Lions score 14 points in a matter of 12 seconds.
The Wolves were unable to find the end zone in the second half, possessing the ball just four times over the final 30 minutes. Two drives ended in punts, with a missed field goal and an interception plaguing Newberry in the final four minutes. A false start penalty turned a 42-yard Rodgers attempt into a 47-yard try, which the senior pushed wide left, while 18 yards worth of sacks on consecutive plays on Newberry’s final drive necessitated a desperation heave on fourth and 28 that was picked off.
Bailey led the Wolves with 49 rushing yards and 163 yards through the air on 10-for-25 passing. Woodruff’s five catches for 66 yards were the team high in both categories.
Mars Hill’s First Team All-American wide receiver Craig Rucker, the active Division II career leader in receiving yards with 3,497 coming into Saturday’s contest, was limited to 24 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Collin Sneed was 14-for-25 for 128 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while Elijah Jett’s 105 yards on 20 carries were a game high.
The Wolves were outgained for the fifth time in five games this season, surrendering 342 yards while gaining 270. The Lions ran 85 plays, 33 more than the Wolves, and benefited from 141 yards on 12 Newberry penalties.
Newberry returns to Setzler Field Saturday for a Homecoming tilt with UVa-Wise. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m.