WISE, Va. – The losing streak is now at six games for the football team at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and the latest defeat was likely the most disheartening.
“I think this might have been the toughest loss we’ve had,” said UVa-Wise offensive lineman Sage McBride. “I thought the second half we fought our butts off to try to make a comeback, but in the end it was a tough one.”
Tusculum held off the Highland Cavaliers for a 21-19 South Atlantic Conference victory on Saturday afternoon at Carl Smith Stadium as a season of struggles were encapsulated in a sloppy contest that was winnable in every way for UVa-Wise.
Familiar problems prevented UVa-Wise from ending its skid.
The play at quarterback was questionable once again as Tanner Bernard and Garrett Cropp combined to go 16-of-41 for 153 yards and were sacked six times.
The defense was done in by a blown coverage in the secondary on Tusculum’s first touchdown of the game and that unit got manhandled on a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive to open the second half that put the Pioneers up nine points.
UVa-Wise didn’t get its kicks either.
Senior kicker Daryian Basco missed the extra point after UVa-Wise’s first touchdown and the Cavs never recovered from that gaffe. A two-point conversion in the second quarter failed.
“Each team scored three touchdowns,” said UVa-Wise coach Dane Damron. “The difference is they hit three extra points and we couldn’t hit one. That’s the difference in the ballgame.”
Basco has yet to connect on a field goal or a touchback thus far in 2019.
“I’ve been scared all year long something like this could happen, which concerns me,” Damron said. “The last three games we haven’t had the opportunity to have that and then it raised its bad head today and it’s unfortunate. … We probably should still be out there playing in overtime if we could just make extra points.”
The Highland Cavaliers (1-6, 0-5) pulled within 21-19 with 1:32 remaining on Shaheim Revel’s 3-yard touchdown run, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Tusculum’s Dee Alford.
There was hope, but UVa-Wise eventually came up empty – again.
“We hit some big runs and big pass plays,” Damron said. “We’re just not consistent. Every time we do something good we do two things bad. That’s the mark of a young football team. … We’re our own worst enemy sometimes. We had too many mental lapses [on defense]. But we played good enough to win this football game today and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get it done.”
Tusculum (2-5, 2-3) committed four turnovers, missed one field goal attempt and mangled another field goal try on a botched hold. However, the Pioneers still prevailed as quarterback Bryce Moore overcame three INTs with two touchdown passes and a rushing TD.
Running back Jordon Shippy (29 carries, 127 yards) and linebacker Jahaud Russ (eight tackles) also made plays that were pivotal.
“An ugly win’s definitely better than a pretty loss any day of the week,” said Tusculum defensive coordinator Cody Edwards, a graduate of Haysi High School and UVa-Wise. “Putting a good mark there in the win column was big for us today. Our guys played hard and fought through some adversity.”
Life in the South Atlantic Conference has been tough for first-year member UVa-Wise after six seasons in the Mountain East Conference. The Cavs have lost their five SAC games by scores of 21-14, 42-7, 63-6, 30-7 and 21-19.
“I think every team in the MEC ran the spread,” said UVa-Wise defensive lineman Bryce Harty. “These teams are running the ball harder and have bigger personnel. We’re trying to adapt to that and get it right.”
Next up? A trip to Wingate, which is 7-0 and ranked 13th in NCAA Division II.
“They’re going to respond,” Damron said. “Kids are a lot more resilient than coaches are, I promise you that. This league’s for real, man. This is a good football league and every team we’ve played so far is really well-coached with a lot of talent. … I thought both teams battled their butts off today and it was two similar teams.”
NOTES: Terrence Lambert (seven carries, 46 yards) was the leading rusher for UVa-Wise, while Eli Marks had a team-high 36 receiving yards on three catches. … Freshman punter Drew Vermillion (Gate City) once again got plenty of work and averaged 40.5 yards on 10 boots. … Veronta Jones and Austin J. Hicks each had 10 tackles for the Cavs in the loss.