2023 Mars Hill vs Tusculum

SAC Week 10 Preview: Mountain Lead At Stake When Mars Hill Visits Tusculum

SAC Week 10 Preview: Mountain Lead At Stake When Mars Hill Visits Tusculum

A matchup for the Mountain division lead heads Week 10, as the 2023 South Atlantic Conference season reaches its home stretch.

Nov 2, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
SAC Week 10 Preview: Mountain Lead At Stake When Mars Hill Visits Tusculum

Mars Hill, riding a four-game winning streak and leading the South Atlantic Conference's Mountain division, goes on the road in Week 10 for a huge matchup with Tusculum. The pairing of a Panthers squad sitting at 6-1 in conference play against the 5-2 in league Pioneers has huge implications both for the upcoming SAC Championship Game and the NCAA Div. II Playoffs picture. 

Tusculum bounced back from a Week 8 setback, a 27-24 overtime loss at Emory & Henry, with last week's 52-14 rout of Erskine. Last Saturday's outpouring was Tusculum's most prolific offensive showing of the season, headlined by quarterback Matthew Palazzo's 229 yards on 18-of-22 passing with three touchdowns. 

The Pioneers defense also dominated, holding Erskine to just 187 yards of total offense and eight first downs. 


Tusculum has scored 35-plus points in 3-of-5 contests since Sept. 23, and at least 27 points in 4-of-5. The team's offensive uptick has been in part a byproduct of Palazzo's passing, with the Week 9 burst marking his fourth consecutive game throwing at least three touchdowns. 

It was also Palazzo's first outing with an interception since the Pioneers' 23-21 upset of Wingate on Sept. 16. Tusculum's win over Bulldogs proved the Pioneers' ability to contend for the top conference — that's a Wingate team that handed Lenoir-Rhyne it's first defeat of the campaign last week. 

Another similar effort is needed against Mars Hill, which will sew up a berth in the SAC Championship Game with a win. 

At 7-1, the Panthers also can continue building a case for the Playoffs as the wins keep piling up. They sit at No. 6 in the Region II rankings with potential to climb. Most recent in the four-game streak — which began only after losing a 27-23 nail-biter to Limestone — was a 49-24 rout of UVA Wise. 


Mars Hill built a 42-0 lead in less than 33 minutes of game time before taking its foot off the gas. Quarterback JR Martin's outstanding all-around performance of 252 yards on 10-of-14 passing with two touchdowns and another three scores with 77 yards on the ground powered the Panthers' best offensive game of the season. 

Both offenses can expect a lower-scoring contest this week. Mars Hill ranks No. 32 nationally in total yards allowed with less than 290 and No. 18 in rushing yards at fewer than 89 per game. 

The Panthers defense isn't especially reliant on takeaways, but Tusculum — with is minus-7 in turnover differential for the year — does need to limit mistakes to avoid Mars Hill dictating the pace. 

Barton at Limestone

The prospect of Limestone reaching its first-ever SAC Championship Game gained new life last week, courtesy of Wingate's defeat of Lenoir-Rhyne. The Saints now head into Week 10 tied atop the Piedmont with L-R, both at 6-1, but the Bears own the tiebreaker as a result of last month's overtime classic. 

Limestone would need another Lenoir-Rhyne loss, combined with a win this week — one Saturday removed from the Saints escaping Newberry with one of the most dramatic finishes anywhere in college football this season. 

Jelani Baker's touchdown grab from Dustin Noller completed a 75-yard, four-play drive in less than 50 seconds, and kept Limestone in the picture from a second consecutive playoff appearance. 

The Saints checked into the most recent Regional rankings with a performance indicator of 24.111, just behind No. 9 Fort Valley State (24.125) and within striking distance of Fayetteville State (24.778). 

Limestone hits the road this week to visit a Barton College team that has hit the skids in recent weeks. 

The Bulldogs dropped their third straight decision last week, falling at Catawba, 32-27. Jordan Terrell's touchdown run in the late third quarter gave Barton a 21-10 lead, but Catawba scored three unanswered touchdowns in about 12 minutes of game time to take command. 

A Bulldogs defense that had been a strength during Barton's 5-1 start has surrendered at least 32 points in each of its last three contests. It will need to regroup against the balanced Limestone attack. 

Running back Tre Stewart comes in pacing the Saints at almost 118 rushing yards per game, while Baker's two scores last week extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown catch to four. 

Catawba at Lenoir-Rhyne  

Last week's 34-30 loss to Wingate gave Lenoir-Rhyne its first and only blemish of the season, but the Bears remain on track for the SAC Championship Game and a berth in the Playoffs. 

Win against Catawba this week, and L-R advances to next week's title round. The Bears are also fifth in the most recent Regional rankings, their 25.677 much closer to No. 2 Delta State's 26.571 than it is to No. 8 West Georgia's 24.000. 

A prospective SAC Championship Game against either Mars Hill or Tusculum could improve Lenoir-Rhyne's playoff outlook, but it only matters if the Bears get past a Catawba team coming off an impressive comeback win at Barton. 

Last week's win snapped a three-game skid for Catawba, which has allowed at least 27 points in all of its last four games. 

Catawba will try to solve a Lenoir-Rhyne defense that, before last week's setback, ranked among the nation's very best in virtually all categories. Catawba leaned on the two-man rushing attack of Malcolm Wilson (173 yards) and Marquece Williams (104 yards, three touchdowns), who saw nearly equal touches. 


Lenoir-Rhyne comes in still allowing just 2.75 yards per carry, and the Bears have given up only four rushing touchdowns on the season. Wingate was able to find success against L-R where no other opponent could through successful chunk-yardage passing plays. 

Bulldogs quarterback Brooks Bentley threw touchdowns of 47 and 75 yards, and also broke off a rare rushing score of 26 yards. 

Despite its reliance on the rushing offense last week, the Catawba offense has been more based on quarterback Preston Brown's passing much of the season. His performances include a three-touchdown effort against Mars Hill. 

Wingate at Newberry 

Lenoir-Rhyne and Limestone finish tied atop the Piedmont with wins, though with L-R boasting the head-to-head tiebreaker. A truly chaotic scenario that could ensue is if both the Bears and Saints lose in Week 10, while Wingate beats Newberry, creates a three-team tie. 

Said scenario then has Wingate boasting the win over Lenoir-Rhyne, which beat Limestone, which beat Wingate. 

While concluding Week 10 in a three-team tie for the Piedmont's Championship Game is unlikely, Wingate is very much alive in the postseason race. The Bulldogs' performance indicator of 24.000 is tied with currently No. 8 West Georgia in Region II. 

Two wins to close out the regular season would elevate Wingate to 8-3 over, and 7-1 in its last eight games. 

Coming off the heartbreak of last week's defeat against Limestone, the Wolves return home only able to play spoiler. Newberry's 28-24 loss to the Saints was its fifth game decided by one possession this season. 

Saturday's defeat of L-R was Wingate's fourth, but the first the Bulldogs won, thanks to Brooks Bentley's dynamite performance 335 yards passing with three touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. 


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