NEWBERRY - In a stunning reversal, Newberry found a way to lose a game that appeared to be headed into the win column Saturday night.
Tusculum overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to claim a 34-31 South Atlantic Conference victory at Setzler Field behind the strong right arm of freshman quarterback Bo Cordell, who had 240 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Cordell's second-half magic trumped the brilliant first half engineered by Newberry quarterback Brandon Gantt, who ran for three touchdowns and passed for one in leading his team to a 28-17 halftime lead.
Tusculum, which entered the game in last place in the SAC, improved to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the conference, while Newberry fell to 4-4 and 2-3.
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"We played different tonight. We fought," said Tusculum coach Frankie DeBusk, the former Furman star quarterback who's in his 12th season leading the Tennessee school.
That fight allowed the Pioneers to slip past a stunned Newberry team, which didn't punt in the first half but could muster only three first downs in the second half.
"I've got to give them credit. They made some good adjustments," Newberry coach Todd Knight said. "They brought a lot more pressure in the second half, and it paid off."
Knight admitted his players might have let off the gas against a struggling Tusculum team.
"That's a gut feeling, anyway," he said.
The game turned early in the fourth quarter with Newberry leading 31-24 and Tusculum lined up to punt. Punter John Gregory found an open Rashaad Carter for a 43-yard gain to the Newberry 5. Two plays later, Cordell hit Nate Binder for the tying score.
On Tusculum's next series, Cordell hooked up with Deonte Gist for a 56-yard pass play to convert a key third down and put the Pioneers in position for Gareth Rowlands to kick the 44-yard, game-winning field goal.
"We had a blown coverage," Knight said. "We didn't have many tonight, but that one showed."
In the first half, Gantt scored on runs of 1, 2 and 1 yards and hooked up with wideout Kelton Tindal on a 76-yard touchdown pass. Gantt led Newberry to 345 yards of in the first half.
"In the first half we came out strong and up-tempo," Kindal said. "In the second half we made a little too many mistakes. It was frustrating. We had the game where we wanted, but we had those turnovers and they had the big plays."
Gantt passed for only 18 yards in the second half and threw three interceptions, one that led to a 39-yard touchdown pass from Cordell to Marcus Foster on the next play to start Tusculum's second-half rally.
It didn't end until the Pioneers were on top.