To accommodate a national television audience, the South Atlantic Conference football opener between Tusculum College and Wingate University has been moved to Thursday, Sept. 24 at the Niswonger Sports Complex and Pioneer Field on the Tusculum campus.
The Tusculum/Wingate contest will be part of a six-game television package for the 2009 season announced NCAA Division II and CBS College Sports. The game, which was originally slated for Saturday, Sept. 26, will now kickoff Thursday night for the prime time audience at 8:05 p.m. (EST).
Both programs are coming off successful seasons. The Pioneers posted a 9-4 record winning four of their last five outings to capture TC’s second South Atlantic Conference title in school history. Tusculum also made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA II Playoffs, advancing to the Final 16. TC finished the season ranked No. 16 in the AFCA Top 25 Coaches’ Poll.
Wingate posted an 8-3 record and finished tied for fourth in the SAC. The Bulldogs jumped out of the gate winning its first seven games of the 2008 campaign, including a thrilling 37-33 victory over Tusculum in a contest that came down to the final play of the game.
It will be the 14th meeting between the Pioneers and Bulldogs, with Wingate leading the all-time series 8-5. The two programs have met each year since 1996.
Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk, the 2008 SAC and AFCA Region Coach of the Year, returns 20 starters from last year’s squad, including 2009 Preseason All-Americans John Gregory (punter), Jarrell NeSmith (tight end) and Ryan Tallent (receiver).
“We are very excited about having the opportunity to represent Tusculum College and the South Atlantic Conference in the televised football game against Wingate University,” said DeBusk. “The game will be between two great institutions from one of the best Division II conferences in the country. We feel privileged to have this opportunity for our student-athletes to be viewed by a national audience with a chance to showcase the Niswonger Sports Complex, the Tusculum campus and the Greeneville community.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase not only two of the top football programs in the league, but the entire South Atlantic Conference,” said Commissioner Patrick Britz. “We would like to thank the NCAA and CBS College Sports for selecting this game and providing such great exposure for these student-athletes, schools and the SAC.”
Tusculum will have a tall chore ahead of them in replacing All-American quarterback Corey Russell. Russell smashed the school and SAC record books in 2008 as he accounted for a nation’s best 49 touchdowns (37 pass, 12 rush). While the Tusculum quarterback will be new in 2009, nearly the entire group of receivers returns. Tallent, a 5-10, 200-pound rising senior from Maryville, Tenn., established a pair of school records in 2008 with 92 receptions, including nine touchdowns. He also posted 989 receiving yards on the year. Also back in the receiving corps is a rising senior Nate Binder, who led the SAC in receiving yards per game (78.7 ypg).
On defense, the Pioneers return five starters. Gregory, a 6-2, 210-pound native of Ooltewah, Tenn., finished third in the nation in punting average booting 43.52 yards per kick, which also established a new school single season record that lasted since 1941.
Wingate coach Joe Reich welcomes back 10 starters on defense and six starters on offense in 2009. Bulldog redshirt junior running back Nelson Woods returns in 2009. The Lawndale Burns High School graduate rushed for 1,238 yards in 2008. On defense, junior linebacker Ben Hinson had 105 tackles and seven tackles for losses during the 2008 campaign.
The six-game TV package begins Aug. 27 when 2008 national runner-up Northwest Missouri State visits defending Lone Star Conference Champion Abilene Christian in a rematch of last year’s national quarterfinal. The following Thursday, defending NCAA II national champion Minnesota-Duluth hosts NCAA Playoff participant Central Washington on Sept. 3.
On Oct. 15, a battle of the Commonwealth of Virginia is showcased when CIAA rivals Virginia Union and Virginia State square off. The clash between Gulf South Conference titans North Alabama and Valdosta State will be played Oct. 22. The regular-season TV package concludes Nov. 5 as Shepherd and Glenville State in an important West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference match-up.
CBS College Sports is widely available on cable systems across the country, including Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, Insight, Time Warner, and Verizon FIOS. It currently reaches 30 million households and is also available on DIRECTV and DISH Network. FSN South reaches 12.2 million households throughout the southeast in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky. The game will also be streamed over the Internet at NCAAsports.com/dii.
The Pioneers will open the 2009 campaign, Saturday, Aug. 29 as Tusculum travels to the University of Charleston (W.Va.).