The University of the Cumberlands (UC) football team came into their NAIA Football Championship Series quarterfinal matchup looking to continue their success of the season. The Patriots went a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and finished ranked number 1 in the nation. After an impressive 56-28 victory in their first round matchup against St. Ambrose, UC looked to make history and advance to the semifinals of the NAIA FCS for the first time in school history. It wouldn't be easy though as they took on a very good St. Francis team, looking to beat the Patriots for the second time in the NAIA FCS quarterfinals.
The Cougars came out looking nearly unstoppable on the first drive as they had a 14 play, 92 yard drive that looked destined for an early 7-0 lead. The motto of the Patriot defense for a number of years under defensive coordinator Michael Collins has been "bend but don't break". The Patriots did just that has they stopped the Cougar offense on a tremendous goal line stand, giving UC possession at their own 1 yard line. The Patriots led an even more impressive drive on their first possession as they drove it 99 yards on 15 plays and took nearly 8 minutes off the clock that ended with an Adam Craig (Jackson, TN) 14 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Bradley Ramsey (Morristown, TN) to make it 7-0 Patriots with a minute and a half left in the 1st quarter.
USF looked to finish the drive on the next series where they looked just as impressive as they took it 88 yards on 15 plays and took it all the way to the UC 6. The defense didn't back down as they continued with their impressive goal line defense as this time, Adrian Hightower (Macon, GA) intercepted it in the end zone and took it all the way to the 50 yard line. The Patriot offense couldn't capitalize on the turnover though as Craig fumbled giving the Cougars the ball back at their own 31 yard line. USF wasted no time taking advantage of their opportunity as Cody Appenzeller found the endzone on a 50 yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7 with 6 minutes to go in the half. The Patriots would respond quickly though as they scored on a 17 yard touchdown run by Hunter Lewis (Dunlap, TN), which was set up by a terrific 58 yard run by D'Angelo Jordan (Jacksonville, FL).
The "sharks" of the Patriot defense attacked again on the next drive as Adrian Hightower picked off his 2nd pass of the game to give the ball back to the Patriots with 2 minutes left and a 14-7 lead. The Patriots took advantage of the turnover this time as Craig found the end zone to make it 21-7 Patriots going into halftime.
The Patriots have been successful all season showing their depth and wearing down their opponents in the 2nd half. This game would be no different as D'Angelo Jordan got the half started with a 64 yard touchdown run in the first drive of the 3rd quarter to make it 28-7 Patriots. The Patriot defense then forced the Cougar defense to punt where UC would take over looking for that knockout punch against the Cougars. The Patriots looked to be in great position as Craig led a 13 play, 72 yard drive that came up just short on a 4th down conversion try at the USF 26 yard line.
The Patriot defense then came up with another huge stop to force the Cougar defense to punt once again and give UC the ball back. After a quick 3 and out by the UC offense, USF took over and struck early in the 4th quarter for the first time in the half on an 8 play, 89 yard drive that lasted only a minute and a half. That made it 28-14 Patriots with 11 minutes to go in the 4th. After both teams exchanged possessions, the Patriot defense came up with a huge stop that gave the Patriots the ball back with 7 minutes to go in the game. The Patriot offense showed just how impressive it can be at wearing down the other team as they ran an impressive 14 play drive that saw St. Francis use all its time outs and saw all 6:48 run off the clock and the Patriots win their first FCS Quarterfinal game in school history 28-14.
The Patriot offense was running wild again as they accumulated 399 yards on the ground today. D'Angelo Jordan was a forced to be reckoned with as he tallied 270 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Adam Craig once again was solid in the backfield as he ran the ball 28 times for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. Craig was also 6-11 through the air for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Patriots were led by Weston Hazelhurst (Clinton, TN) who had possibly one of the biggest games of his career with 16 total tackles and 0.5 sacks. Albert Huntley (Mableton, GA) and Carson Newman (Jefferson, GA) each had 8 tackles a piece. Adrian Hightower was huge in the Patriot secondary as he picked off 2 Cougar passes, giving UC great field position.
Head Coach John Bland commented, "This was a great total team effort today. Our guys played hard and it's always so big to win at home. Glad that we will be able to stay here for one more and get one step closer to our ultimate goal which is Rome and a national championship."
The Patriots will now set their sights on the NAIA FCS Semifinals next Saturday, their first time here in school history. They will host that game here at James H. Taylor, II Stadium at 12:00 pm with the opponent to be determined.
For more information on the Patriot football program along with other Patriot athletics, please visit www.cumberlandspatriots.com.