COLUMBIA, Ky. - Cumberland's defense forced six turnovers and allowed just 34 yards rushing in a 23-13 season-opening win at Lindsey Wilson's Blue Raider Stadium Saturday night.
All told, the Bulldog defense intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles as the 18th-ranked Bulldogs overcame a slow start.
Cumberland (1-0) rushed for 83 yards in the second half and scored 17 consecutive points to end the contest, scoring a pair of touchdowns after Blue Raider interceptions to take control of the game.
QB Reed Gurchiek scored on a two-yard run with 32 seconds remaining in the third period for CU's first lead of the game and he threw a four-yard TD pass to DeJeay Woods with 5:51 remaining in the game to ice the victory.
Gurchiek was 18-for-31 for 218 yards and two touchdowns, including 129 yards on six receptions and a touchdown by James McClain. Lemeco Miller led the Bulldogs on the ground with 11 carries for 57 yards and he added three catches for 33 yards.
The Cumberland defense allowed 357 yards passing to the Blue Raiders (0-1) but picked off four passes, two from safety Cody McCallister. Chris Simpson and Stephon Ransom also had interceptions while Ben Miller and Simon Moriarty both caused and recovered fumbles.
With the score tied at six at the half LWC quarterback Branden Cresap hit Richard Kennedy for a 66-yard touchdown six minutes into the third quarter for a 13-6 Blue Raider lead.
Cumberland cut into the deficit after an 11-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal from Beau Baker. After an interception by Ransom put the Bulldogs at the LWC 27, Gurchiek bulled in from two yards out, giving CU a 16-13 advantage.
After another Cresap interception, the second of the game from McCallister, the Bulldogs milked the clock and put the game away, driving 62 yards on 11 plays. On 1st-and-goal Gurchiek found Woods on the backline for a four-yard score and the final points of the contest.
Cumberland's defense sacked LWC quarterbacks eight times in last year's meeting, but the Bulldogs were unable to get much pressure on Cresap in the first half. The freshman took advantage, completing 14-of-27 passes for 186 yards and one score.
The Blue Raiders got on the board first in the game, marching 63 yards on four plays in the second quarter, capped by a beautiful post-corner throw from Cresap to Chaz Barnes from 25 yards. Ben Miller blocked the extra point, giving LWC a 6-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs missed two opportunities to hit McClain for long pass plays earlier in the second quarter, but Gurchiek connected with the sophomore on the next possession on a 57-yard catch and run. The snap on the extra point was low and wide left and Daley Sallis was tackled trying to run, tying the contest at six with 6:11 to play in the first half.
Gurchiek was 9-of-15 for 135 yards in the first half, but CU rushed 15 times for just 46 yards and had trouble on third down, converting only 2-of-7.
LWC moved the ball into CU territory again later in the quarter with a 21-yard screen pass to Alex Abner. But on a shuffle pass to Abner at the CU20, the freshman ran to the 10 but Miller stripped him from behind and then recovered the ball, keeping the score tied at six at intermission.
Cumberland plays at Campbellsville University next Saturday at 6 p.m. CT before taking on Kentucky Christian in the home opener on September 17 at 1:30 p.m.