NEWBERRY — A career day from Markell Castle was not enough to overcome a second-half onslaught as Newberry fell to visiting Lenoir-Rhyne 34-21 in a critical battle of the last two remaining unbeaten South Atlantic Conference teams.
The Bears (5-1, 4-0 SAC) scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to win their fourth straight game. Punt return touchdowns of 69 and 64 yards by Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger, one late in the second quarter and one early in the third, provided the catalyst for the Bears.
Castle was the Wolves’ (3-3, 1-1 SAC) offensive superstar, rewriting the Newberry record book with seven catches for 197 yards, the third-most in Newberry history for a single game. He had a 75-yard touchdown late in the first half, leaping while shielding a defender with his body to come down with the ball around the 40 and breaking a tackle on his way to the end zone. The play was the longest of his career and the 12th-longest passing play in school history.
The York native also became the third Newberry receiver to ever top the 2,000-yard barrier and moved into second place all-time with 2,173 yards. He passed Brandon Bostick for fourth in school history with 137 receptions and is one shy of Corey Washington for second in career touchdowns with 21.
Castle added 26 yards on the ground to total 223 all-purpose yards for the game. The Newberry rushing attack was led by Austin Barnes, who netted 81 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. The Wolves had six players gain at least 20 rushing yards for a total of 218, the fourth time this season that Newberry has gained at least 200 yards on the ground. The Wolves gained 443 yards overall, the second-highest total this season.
Newberry’s defense gave up 321 yards to the Bears, limiting the visitors to 142 yards below their season average. Lenoir-Rhyne’s passing attack, which entered the game ranked third in the SAC at 216 yards per game, was held to 88 yards in an 8-for-16 showing.
Joe Blue led the way for Newberry with 11 tackles, including a sack. Jamarcus Henderson had eight tackles and a quarterback hurry, while Anthony Blue had six tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup.
The Wolves got out to a hot start, using a nine yard rumble by Barnes to cap an eight-play, 78-yard drive on the game’s first possession. After forcing a second Lenoir-Rhyne punt, Newberry marched 90 yards in eight plays to push the lead to 14-0 with just over two minutes to play in the opening period. Bobby Irby made a leaping catch on a nine yard touchdown reception for his second score of the year.
Lenoir-Rhyne drove 89 yards on its next possession only to be stopped inches shy of the end zone on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter. But things began to quickly unravel for the Wolves: a three-and-out and a long punt return by Dugger led to a 23-yard touchdown drive. Newberry’s next punt yielded Dugger’s first touchdown of the afternoon.
Newberry gained 150 yards of offense in the second half, but missed a field goal, had a fumble, an interception, and a turnover on downs, and punted three times. The Bears, however, scored on three of their five second-half possessions before running out the clock and got an additional score from Dugger’s second touchdown return.
Lenoir-Rhyne snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wolves in reclaiming Bishops’ Trophy for the first time since 2014. The win gives them a perfect 4-0 mark in conference play and makes the Bears the prohibitive favorite to win the SAC title for the first time since 2014.
The Bears have now scored 31 points in all six games. They were limited to three third-down conversions on 12 opportunities, however; Wolves opponents have gone 10 for their last 57 (.175) on third downs over the last four-plus games dating back to the fourth quarter at Florida Tech.
The win gives Lenoir-Rhyne a 17-15 record since the creation of the Bishops’ Trophy in 1987 and a 24-23-1 edge in games played against Newberry since 1971.
Newberry returns to action with a trip to Tusculum next Saturday. Kickoff from Greeneville, Tennessee is set for 3:00 p.m.