Cumberland, Marian earn Big River Bowl titles
After taking a year off in an effort to revamp the Big River Bowl, organizers of the event doubled the excitement on Saturday when two games took place at J.C. Sawyers stadium on the campus of Dyersburg High School.
The noon matchup between No.22-ranked Cumberland University and Kansas Wesleyan went off without a hitch as the NAIA Top 25 Bulldogs steamrolled their way past KW 31-10.
In the 5 p.m. contest between No.3-ranked Marian University and No.11 Bethel University, lightning strikes and an unfavorable forecast forced the game to be called at the end of the third quarter with Marian on top 31-7.
Though the late game was forced to end early, Team Dyersburg spokesman Jeff Heathcott said overall the event went rather smoothly and all involved left appreciative of the hospitality received during their short stay in Dyersburg.
"I thought it went well considering everything. The teams were very pleased with how they were treated and three of the four coaches said if we ever needed a reference for future games, they would be more than happy to recommend to anyone that they come and play in the Big River Bow," said Heathcott. "I think that says a lot right there about how well everything went for them while they were here."
While the teams left feeling pretty well about the city of Dyersburg during their stay, the one drawback to the event was the lack of support from football fans in West Tennessee. Heathcott didn't understand it, but said in the future a better effort will be made to get people to fill the stands for some exciting gridiron action.
"We hoped the people in the area would come out and show better support, and I guess we're going to have to do a better job of advertising it next year," added Heathcott. "This event is a win-win for all involved, so it's hard to understand why more local football fans didn't show up."
What the majority of fans missed was two well-played football games by Cumberland and Marian.
In the opener, Cumberland's Lemeco Miller and quarterback Reed Gurchiek had dominant performances for the Bulldogs. Miller rushed 19 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while his teammate carried 19 times for 118 yards and reached the end zone once.
The Bulldogs took a 14-10 lead to the locker room at the half before adding two scores and a field goal in the second half to earn the 31-10 final.
In the nightcap, No.3 Marian spoiled the homecoming of several local players on the Bethel roster with the 31-7 victory after three quarters of play.
Knight running back Tevin Lake was stellar for Marian, rushing 18 times for 137 yards. Quarterback Adam Wiese was solid as well for the Knights, completing 12-of-16 passes for 161 yards that included three touchdown strikes during the three-quarter contest.
Bethel's Raquis Hale scored Bethel's only touchdown, a 6-yard scamper near the end of the second quarter to avoid the shutout.
As the third installment of the Big River Bowl came to an end, Heathcott and the other Team Dyersburg members will begin working on the fourth annual bowl game scheduled for next year. Heathcott said afterward that while everyone involved was impressed with the city, the facilities and the treatment received during their stay, the thanks should go to the school system.
"We worked hard to bring this back another year, but if it wasn't for the support of the city school system it wouldn't have been possible," he added. "We had the support of Superintendent Neil Durbin, Jon Frye and Blaine Mahaffey all the way down to the custodial staff and they played as important a role in this as anyone. Speaking for Team Dyersburg allow me to say that their efforts were greatly appreciated and everyone in Dyersburg should thank those guys for the hard work they put in to help us. I know we appreciate it and the entire business community should be thanking them too."