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Bowie State quarterback Ja'rome Johnson, shown in this file photo, accounted for 361 yards of offense in the Bulldogs' loss on Saturday.
Bowie State quarterback Ja'rome Johnson, shown in this file photo, accounted for 361 yards of offense in the Bulldogs' loss on Saturday. (Courtesy Photo)

Ja’Quan Smith picked off Ja’rome Johnson’s pass in the end zone with 2:41 to play, dealing the final blow to Bowie State as visiting Carson-Newman ended an incredible season for the Bulldogs with a 17-9 win at Bulldogs Stadium.

Smith’s interception marked the fifth time that the previously unbeaten Bulldogs had driven into the red zone without scoring points — the key why the best season in the program’s history came to a shocking end.

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Bowie State gained 410 yards total offense to Carson-Newman’s 363 and had 21 first downs to the Eagles’ 14, but missed two field goals, twice turned the ball over on downs and were intercepted twice, once in the end zone. The Bulldogs twice were at or inside the 5 and went away empty-handed.

“If you look at the stat sheet, I wouldn’t say they shut us down. We didn’t execute in the red zone and played a sloppy game,” said Bowie State coach Damon Wilson. “We lost a game to a very good football team.

“They have been to the postseason 26 times. They ‘ve been where we want to be,” Wilson added.

The loss overshadowed a heroic performance by BSU quarterback Johnson, who had 361 yards total offense, rushing for 98 yards and passing for 263 yards by completing 16 of 34 passes. Johnson took a beating all day, running 22 times and getting sacked five times. He twice left the game after a hard hit, only to return. The game-clinching interception was thrown by Johnson on the first play after he had returned from an injury.

Trailing 17-9 with 4:52 to play, the Bulldogs moved inside the 10-yard line behind Johnson, who completed a 17-yard pass to start the drive. It was on his 35-yard open-field scramble to the C-N six that he was injured. Gaston Cooper replaced him and gained a yard to the 5. Johnson then reentered the game and threw the interception. The Eagles used seven running plays to run out the clock.

Carson-Newman (9-2) used the big play to score. Two long passes — one of 63 yards, the other for 62 yards, led to touchdowns.

“The way I look at it, we gave up two long plays to them and the rest of the game, we held them pretty well,” said Bowie linebacker Tommar Phillips.

On the second series of the game for C-N, Tyler Thackerson threw to Braxton Westfield, covering 63 yards. Nate Craft’s kick made it 7-0. On the final play of the third period, Thackerson hit Antonio Wimbush on a throwback screen that turned into a 62-yard gain sprint by Wimbush until he was downed at the 22. From the 10, Wimbush scored to give the Eagles a 17-9 lead.

“I knew he was press-baling, so we took advantage of it,” said Westfield of his score. “We knew I could press his toes and get outside him and just beat him with my speed. I trusted that Thack would put the ball in the right place. The rest is history.”

On their first possession following Carson-Newman’s first score, Bowie State drove 93 yards in eight plays to score on Johnson’s 33-yard pass to DuShon David. David finished with five catches for 77 yards.

On its next possession, Bowie State drove from its own 49 to the Carson-Newman 6-yard line. On third down, Johnson carried to the 1. On fourth down, BSU went for the score but Johnson was stopped for no gain by Montel Presley.

The Bulldogs salvaged two points and took the lead when a mass of linemen tackled Thackerson in the end zone for a safety, giving Bowie a 9-7 lead.

On their two-second period possessions, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on an interception at the C-N 20 and the next possession, they missed a 33-yard field goal. Carson-Newman took the lead at 10-9 on Nate Craft’s 47-yard field goal.

On their next possession, the Bulldogs drove to the 19, but a sack of Johnson pushed the ball back to the 27. Carson’s field goal attempt from there was blocked and Carson-Newman took over at the 9, from where it started its final touchdown drive. The Bulldogs countered by driving 68 yards but gave the ball up on downs at the C-N 13 when Johnson was sacked, then threw consecutive incompletions.

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After the defense held Carson-Newman, Johnson led the Bulldogs on their final drive, which ended in Smith’s interception.

“We knew it was going to be a battle from the get-go. We made errors early, but these kids hung in there and played with great heart,” said Carson-Newman head coach Mike Turner. “We knew stopping their quarterback was going to be a big problem, but we found a way to put pressure on him and got tacklers on him.”

“I am very happy with both our offense and defense, we trusted each other to do what we had to do,” said C-N linebacker Daniel Dixon-Brooks, who led the defense with 10 tackles. Rondrow Peebles had eight tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks.

Wimbush rushed for 143 yards and became the fifth C-N player with two 1,000-yard seasons. Thackerson only threw five passes, completing three for 137 yards. The Eagles also played turnover-free football.

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