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Tusculum rallies three times to edge Mars Hill 28-24

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GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - Tusculum quarterback Alex Ogle passed for two touchdowns and running back Maxwell Joseph rushed for a pair of scores in leading the Pioneers to a 28-24 come-from-behind win over Mars Hill Saturday night at Pioneer Field.

Tusculum (3-3, 1-2 South Atlantic Conference) rallied from behind three times and scored the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter on Joseph's second TD run of the game.

In the 34 th all-time meeting between the cross-mountain rivals, this marks the sixth straight time the game has been decided by a touchdown or less.

Ogle went 15-of-23 for 282 yards and an interception as senior wideout Evan Altizer made four receptions for a career-high 133 yards including a 36-yard scoring grab to put the Pioneers on the board in the second quarter.

Tusculum out-gained the Lions in total yardage by a 409-306 margin including 127-54 in the fourth quarter alone.

Mars Hill forced three turnovers on the night and took one of them to the end zone for the first points of the game. With Tusculum at midfield on fourth and one yard to go, MHU's Aundreas Hill forced a fumble in the backfield which bounced forward and was picked by the Lions' Anthony Carson who returned it for a 52-yard touchdown. Tanner Fox's kick made it 7-0 Mars Hill at the 4:05 mark of the quarter.

After TC went three and out on its next possession, the Lions' Elijah Jett sprinted 56 yards to the TC 36. MHU got inside the Tusculum 10-yard line as the drive stalled. Fox came aboard and drilled a 26-yard field to extend the lead to 10-0 with 13:40 left in the second quarter.

The Pioneers answered on the ensuing possession as Jay Boyd returned the short kickoff 22 yards to the MHU 49. Four plays later, Ogle found Altizer in the back of the end zone as he got one foot in for a 36-yard TD. Gabe Shillings kick made it a 10-7 game with 11:30 to go before halftime.

The Lions responded with an 11-play, 72-yard drive in 4:36 which was capped off by a Reggie Battle one-yard run to the end zone and a 17-7 MHU lead. Mars Hill converted a pair of third downs, including a TC pass interference call and a 19-yard pass from David Salmon to Casey Gladney to the one-yard line to set up the Battle score with 6:54 left in the half.

The Pioneers answered again on its next drive. TC overcame a personal foul that pushed the Pioneers back to third down and 22 yards to go. Ogle completed a 21-yard pass over the midde to a diving Lor'renzo Pratt to the MHU 16. TC converted on fourth and one with a Joseph three-yard run to the 13-yard line. Two plays later, Ogle found Pratt on a roll out to dove for the pylon at the goal line for an eight-yard TD catch with 26 seconds left on the clock. The Shilling kick made it a 17-14 game heading to the locker room.

At the start of the second half, Salmon was intercepted by Boyd at the Mars Hill 43-yard line. Ogle completed a 15-yard pass to Gates and on third and 14, senior Eric Lynch came up with a 24-yard catch up the middle and was tackled at the one-yard line. Joseph polished off the drive with a one-yard run to give Tusculum its first lead of the night at 21-17 at the 11:03 mark of the third quarter.

Both teams exchanged punts on their next possessions. Mars Hill's Tyler Ferguson returned a punt 39 yards to the TC 42. The Lions got to the TC 9 before TC's L'Keith Brown forced a fumble which was kicked around in the MHU backfield and went out of bounds at the MHU 21. A false start penalty on third down and long moved the ball back to the 26-yard line. Fox attempted a 43-yard field goal, but his kick hit the left upright to keep it a 21-17 contest with 6:04 left in the third.

TC went three plays and out on its next possession as the Lions took over at their own 41 yard line.

Salmon went to the air as he completed a 13-yard pass to Keshaun Taylor and a 22-yard strike to Greeneville native Jamel Hall to the TC 19. After 10-yard holding penalty against Mars Hill, Salmon completed a 23-yard pass to Gladney to the one-yard line as Jett finished off the drive with a one-yard plunge up the middle as MHU regained the lead at 24-21 with 59 seconds left in the third frame.

Ogle was intercepted by Jeremy Middleton on the second play of the ensuing drive and returned it 11 yard to the TC 37.

The Tusculum defense bowed up and forced a fumble and recovered it at the TC 32. But TC was penalized for holding on the play giving the ball back to the Lions. But on third down Leon Cunningham and Ivan Hogans combined on a sack of Salmon to the TC 37-yard line and force a MHU punt.

Tusculum took the momentum and utilized a 10-play, 89-yard drive highlighted by a pair of Lynch receptions covering 30 and 23 yards to move to the MHU 14. Jordon Shippy popped off a six-yard run, while Joseph ran for seven yards to the one-yard line. Two plays later, Joseph scored his second TD of the night as the Pioneers retook the advantage 28-24 with 10:42 left on the clock.

Salmon drove down the field into TC territory thanks to a 19-yard pass for Taylor and catches for nine and 19 yard by Craig Rucker to get to the TC 33. A false start penalty couple with a JaQuinton Alston-Thompson sack the Lions faced second down and long yardage. A loss of two yards on a run and incomplete passes by Salmon on third and fourth down turned the ball over to the Pioneers with 6:40 left.

Tusculum drove down the field methodically looking to maintain possession and milk time off the clock. TC converted three first downs and had the ball second and 10 from the MHU 21 with 3:49 left. Following a MHC timeout, their last of the game, the Lions Chris Leamon stripped the football and recovered it at the MHU 20 with 3:42.

The Lions were poised to drive for the go-ahead score. TC was whistled for pass interference on the first play of the possession moving the ball to the MHU 35. But a false start penalty and an unsportsmanlike flag after the play put the Lions second down and 30. Salmon completed a nine-yard pass on third down and could get only six yards on fourth down and 21 following a couple of laterals as TC took over on downs at the MHU 30 with 2:43 left.

Tusculum posted three running plays and was able to take 2:32 off the clock as the Lions took over at the 20-yard line with 11 seconds left. The Lions could get off only two plays as time expired and the Pioneers held on for the four-point win.

Salmon, who entered the game as the league's top passer, was held to 191 passing yards, going 14-of-34 with one interception and was sacked three times. Jett finished the game with 106 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown.

Joseph led the Pioneers running attack with 66 yards on 17 carries and the two scores, while Pratt finished with 41 yards on 13 carries and Shippy added 35 yards on his nine attempts.

Lynch had an outstanding game as he totaled three catches for a career-high 77 yards. Pratt led TC with five receptions as he totaled 40 yards and a TD.

Brown led the Pioneers with nine tackles, including one for loss and a forced fumble, while Goodman added eight stops, including two for loss and a sack. Cameron Gergley made seven stops, including several key hits on special teams, while Hogans posted six stops including a sack.

Hill led the Lions with his game-high 10 tackles, including a forced fumble to set up Mars Hill's first touchdown. Leamon added nine stops, including four for loss and a sack.

Tusculum returns to action next Saturday when they travel to Newberry to take on the defending South Atlantic Conference champions at Setzler Field for a 1 p.m. contest.

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