WINGATE, N.C. – Newberry saw its seven-game South Atlantic Conference road winning streak come to a close at the hands of the league leaders Saturday evening as 16th-ranked Wingate jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and held off the Wolves in the second half for a 44-20 victory.
The Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SAC) clinched at least a share of the 2017 SAC Championship and can win the title outright with wins in either of their remaining contests against Limestone and Tusculum.
Wingate staked its claim to the title a year after Newberry (4-5, 2-3 SAC) dashed the Bulldogs’ hopes with a title-clinching win of its own in the teams’ 2016 meeting.
Greg Ruff finished the game with 95 yards passing and 95 yards rushing. The redshirt freshman threw for a pair of touchdowns and now has 446 rushing yards on the season, the second-highest total by a Newberry quarterback since the 1992 season.
Markell Castle finished with four catches for 47 yards, passing Corey Washington for seventh in receiving yardage and David Brown for 10th in total receptions in school history. His career totals stand at 104 catches for 1,647 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Wingate stormed out to a 21-point advantage in the first quarter, using a 49-yard pick-six by Zack Singleton and an 85-yard punt return by B.J. Muckelvene to stretch their lead. The Bulldogs’ first score came on a 1-yard dive by newly-minted school rushing touchdown leader Lawrence Pittman after a 58-yard completion to Muckelvene on Wingate’s first play from scrimmage.
Pittman led Wingate with a game-high 148 rushing yards and a pair of scores on 28 carries, with Blake Hayes’ 18 rushes for 67 yards providing a formidable one-two punch. James Whitaker and Dylan Williams threw for 117 and 112 yards, respectively, each connecting with Muckelvene for a score. Muckelvene finished with three total touchdowns and had 124 receiving yards on just three catches.
Newberry answered Wingate’s long punt return with a scoring drive covering 77 yards in just four plays to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to two possessions. A career-long 49-yard rush by Nick Jones put the Wolves into Wingate territory before the sophomore quarterback found Keinan Lewis in the end zone from 12 yards out for his third touchdown of the season.
The Wolves turned the ball over twice in the second quarter but limited the Bulldogs to a missed field goal and a three-and-out on the ensuing drives. A Ruff-to-Wes Jordan connection from 27 yards capped a 76-yard, seven-play drive that cut the deficit to one possession before the intermission.
Wingate added touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half before a 16-yard strike from Ruff to Chance Walker with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter to bring the score to 34-20. But Newberry could get no closer as the Bulldogs tacked on a touchdown pass and a 21-yard field goal to add to their lead.
Joe Blue led all players with 13 tackles and had a game-high 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. LaQuan White was credited with a pair of pass breakups, while Rameak Smith forced a fumble in the first quarter.
Shea Rodgers punted seven times for an average of 42.0 yards, including a career-long 70-yard punt that was Newberry’s third-longest punt of the past 21 years.
Newberry was denied in its quest for a fifth straight win over Wingate, which would have tied a 2006-10 winning streak over Lenoir-Rhyne as the longest streak in conference games over a single opponent in school history.
The Wolves also fell to 12-10 over the last 12 seasons against ranked opponents.
Newberry returns to action next Saturday as the Wolves travel to Catawba.
Kickoff from Shuford Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m.