MARS HILL, N.C. – The Lions' football team fell to SAC rival Tusculum 31-28 Saturday afternoon in Mars Hill's annual Homecoming contest in a closely fought battle at the Ammons Family Athletic Center and Meares Stadium. Mars Hill is now 2-4 overall and 2-2 in the SAC. The Pioneers improved to 3-2 on the season, 2-1 in the league.
Austin Brown threw for 226 yards completing 19-34 passes and one touchdown pass and rushed for 91 yards in the contest. Jaqueveon Watkins rushed for 98 yards and one score averaging 14.0 yards per carry. Craig Rucker caught five passes for 34 yards. Chris Ferdinand and Jaden King led the Lions' defense with 11 tackles apiece. Ferdinand added an interception and a forced fumble.
Tommy Pistone threw for 179 yards and two scores completing 14-19 passes. Tory Ponder was on the receiving end of seven of those passes for 87 yards and one touchdown. Lor'renzo Pratt rushed 11 times for 83 yards and one touchdown. Ivan Hogans led the Pioneers' defense with 11 tackles while Malik Goodman added eight tackles, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble.
The teams combined for 970 yards in the contest, 519 in the air. The big difference in the game were three costly turnovers by Mars Hill. The first two Lion miscues led to 10 points for the Pioneers. The final turnover was made by the Lions in the red zone that could have easily led to a MHU score with 9:48 left in regulation. Tusculum controlled the ball for 35:26 minutes of the contest.
Pistone found Jacob Moss on a 14-yard pass to give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead with 11:06 left in the first quarter. Joe Defatta hit a 43-yard field goal with 8:30 left in the opening period to extend Tusculum's lead to 10-0. Pistone and Moss connected again on a 12-yard scoring strike with 11:25 on the clock in the second quarter to give TU a 17-0 advantage.
Rucker put the Lions on the board at the 7:44 mark of the second frame when he scored on a three-yard rushing play to trim the deficit to 17-7. Alex Ogle then hit Ponder on a 19-yard scoring pass to send the teams into the locker room at halftime with Tusculum holding a 24-7 lead.
Christopher Roberts dove in from four yards out with 4:33 left in the third stanza to bring the Lions within 10 points (24-14) of the Pioneers. Pratt scored what would later prove to be the game-winning score with 12:32 left in the contest on a three-yard rush to extend Tusculum's lead to 31-21. After the team's traded possessions on a MHU fumble and a Tusculum interception, Brown found Clarenton Cowart on a 12-yard scoring pass as time expired to make the final tally 31-28 in favor of the visitors.
Mars Hill will play at SAC foe Carson-Newman on Saturday, October 13. Kickoff in Jefferson City, Tenn., is set for 3 p.m.