BY DARREN REESE
Tusculum quarterback Bo Cordell remembers the 2011 game against North Greenville all too well. In fact, he carries a daily reminder around with him.
On a routine play in the fourth quarter against the Crusaders last year, Cordell dropped back to pass, just as he did 61 other times in that game. Only this time it turned out to be nothing but ordinary.
Cordell broke his foot on the play, without a defender even touching him. The injury ended up costing him the rest of his season. He underwent surgery and now has "a nice screw in there," as he puts it.
Tusculum went on to lose the game 27-7, and without the star quarterback, the Pioneers struggled to a 3-8 record.
Cordell is now back and feeling stronger than ever. He has thrown for 893 yards and seven touchdowns in two games this season, even though Tusculum has lost both of them.
When the Pioneers host North Greenville this Saturday for their 2012 home opener, they hope that the game against the Crusaders can once again be the turning point in their season - only this time in a positive way. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Pioneer Field.
"We all have a bad taste from the North Greenville game last year," said Cordell, who finished fourth in voting for the 2010 Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the NCAA Division II National Player of the Year.
"We went into last year's game confident and weren't able to get anything going against them. This year, we really hope this game will kick-start our season."
This week's matchup features two teams that are desperate for a win.
Despite strong offensive outputs, slow starts have doomed Tusculum (0-2) in losses to Urbana and West Georgia this year.
North Greeneville (0-2), meanwhile, has played two tough opponents and suffered double-digit losses in both. The Crusaders lost to No. 22 Albany State 24-12 in their season opener, and then took a 42-14 beating from Division I FCS opponent Tennessee Tech.
"We are both 0-2 and hungry for a win," said Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk, who is 12-2 in home openers during his head coaching career. "This is a great opportunity for us to get our season headed in the right direction."
"We didn't play very good against them last year. They are trying to right the ship as well. I'm sure that's what they are thinking to themselves at this point too."
If the Pioneers want to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007, it is imperative that they have a better effort out of the gates this week. In their two losses, Tusculum has been out-scored 62-19 in the first half, including 20-0 in the opening quarter.
"That's what has haunted us," DeBusk said. "We are starting so slow offensively that it's putting our defense in bad situations. We haven't scored hardly any points in the first half the last two games due to mistakes we are making, dropped balls and turnovers."
"I firmly believe that we are very, very close to putting up a lot of points. We are talented enough to score. We just have to eliminate mistakes and do it consistently. I hope it's in game three (of the season)."
Tusculum hasn't had any problems moving the ball down the field. The Pioneers are second in the South Atlantic Conference with 554 yards per game. But they have committed nine turnovers and are converting just 31-percent of third down tries.
"Last week, we turned it over in critical situations," DeBusk pointed out. "We had six turnovers, and then we went for it on fourth down twice and didn't get it. So those are eight drives where we just handed it back to the opponent."
"We aren't going to be able to that and beat anybody."
North Greenville has had a complete overhaul since last year's 11-3 campaign in which the Crusaders advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Not only did they lose seven starters on defense and the majority of their offensive backfield, but head coach Jamey Chadwell left to take over the helm of the Delta State program.
North Greenville hired Carrol McCray as his replacement. McCray was previously the assistant head coach at Mercer University.
This is the fourth meeting between Tusculum and the Crusaders. The Pioneers hold a 2-1 advantage in the series. The live radio broadcast of Saturday's game can be heard on WSMG 1450 AM.