Friday, September 8, 2023

Mars Hill University Stuns Wingate University in Dramatic Second-Half Comeback

MARS HILL – In an electrifying clash between the Mars Hill University Lions and the Wingate University Bulldogs, the Lions engineered a remarkable second-half rally to secure a thrilling 15-10 victory in their 2023 season opener. This NCAA Division II football showdown left fans on the edge of their seats as the Lions moved to a 1-0 record, while the Bulldogs faced a tough 1-1 start to their season.

First Half: Bulldogs Lead with Strong Defense

The game commenced with a scoreless first quarter, setting the stage for a fierce battle between two determined teams. However, the Bulldogs from Wingate University surged ahead in the second quarter, displaying their prowess with a strong defensive performance. The turning point came when Marquez Baxter forced a fumble, which Jaheim Mullen swiftly recovered at the Wingate 26-yard line. This pivotal play allowed the Bulldogs to gain possession and ultimately set them on a path to the scoreboard.

Wingate's offense showcased its skill as it covered 74 yards over seven plays, resulting in a touchdown. Alex Wilson's 33-yard run ignited the drive, positioning the Bulldogs at the Mars Hill 26-yard line. Quarterback Brooks Bentley demonstrated precision by connecting with Carlos Estranza for a 12-yard pass, advancing them to the 14-yard line. Bentley then found Evan McCray for an 11-yard reception, setting up a first-and-goal from the three-yard line. Noah Bell capitalized on this opportunity and plunged into the end zone from three yards out, securing a 7-0 lead for the Bulldogs.

As the half drew to a close, the Bulldogs extended their lead. Noah Bell orchestrated an impressive drive, connecting with Matt Flanders for a 25-yard gain. Caleb Bonesteel sealed the deal with a 20-yard field goal, bringing the score to 10-0 in favor of Wingate at halftime.

Second Half: Mars Hill's Resilience Shines

The second half saw a resurgence from Mars Hill University, as they shook off the early deficit and displayed remarkable resilience. Lon Teachey ignited the Lions' scoring with a 41-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 10-3.

The fourth quarter witnessed a dramatic turn of events. With just under four minutes left in the game, JR Martin connected with Beau DeBerry for a 10-yard touchdown pass, narrowing the gap to 10-9. Unfortunately for the Lions, the extra-point attempt failed, leaving them trailing by one point with 11:09 left to play.

The defining moment came with under six minutes remaining when a Bulldogs' fumble turned the tide of the game. Tristan Rankin, with keen awareness, scooped up the loose ball and embarked on a breathtaking 55-yard dash to the end zone. This remarkable defensive play not only gave the Lions the lead but also secured their eventual game-winning score.

In the closing minutes, Wingate made a valiant effort to regain control. Noah Bell orchestrated an impressive drive, connecting with Trevor Grant and Damian Sutton to advance to the Mars Hill 40-yard line. However, the Lions' resolute defense stood firm, forcing a turnover on downs with 3:23 left on the clock.

The Bulldogs' defense refused to yield and managed to regain possession with 1:26 remaining. Wingate's connections to Sutton and McCray took them to the Mars Hill 40-yard line once more. However, time was not on their side, and they eventually turned the ball over on downs with 44 seconds to go.

Key Stats and Takeaways

Mars Hill University displayed an impressive blend of offensive and defensive prowess, accumulating 295 total yards of offense, with 153 coming on the ground.

Mars Hill quarterback JR Martin played a pivotal role, throwing for 142 yards and orchestrating a crucial touchdown drive.

Jon Gullette showcased his running abilities, rushing for 107 yards with an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

On the defensive side, Landon Honeycutt led all players with nine tackles, while Tristan Rankin's game-changing fumble recovery and 55-yard return for a touchdown sealed the Lions' victory.

The Mars Hill University Lions have set a formidable tone for their 2023 season with this spectacular comeback victory. The Bulldogs of Wingate University displayed resilience but fell short in the face of Mars Hill's determined effort.

Looking ahead, Mars Hill University will continue their season on Saturday, September 16, when they face Catawba on the road. The matchup promises to deliver more thrilling moments as the Lions embark on their South Atlantic Conference journey.