BY DARREN REESE
Sometimes all a struggling football team needs is someone to make a play.
For Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk, he had more than enough players willing to step up at opportune times Saturday night.
Bo Cordell threw for 322 yards, Brian Marshall totaled 258 all-purpose yards, and the Tusculum defense forced three turnovers as the Pioneers picked up their first win of the 2012 season with a 33-21 decision over North Greenville at Pioneer field.
"An 0-2 football team could have turned it off and laid down," DeBusk said. "Instead we found a way to make plays and won a football game."
"We have guys on our team that we expect to make big plays, and tonight they stepped up and kept making things happen. We didn't play error-free football, but we did what we needed to do in order to get the win."
The win avenged last year's 27-7 loss that the Pioneers suffered at North Greenville.
Cordell, who broke his foot in that meeting and missed the rest of the 2011 season, was 25-of-40 Saturday night. He threw four touchdowns and one interception, though the pick came on a ball that was tipped up in the air by one of his receivers.
Cordell eclipsed the 10,000-yard passing mark for his career with a completion early in the first quarter. He now has 10,316 yards in just 27 career games and stands 622 yards shy of becoming the all-time leading passer in South Atlantic Conference history.
The usually pass-heavy Tusculum offense made it a priority to be balanced on offense, running the ball 27 times for 122 yards.
Marshall led the way with 13 carries for 90 yards. The senior back also had 54 yards receiving and 114 yards on kick returns, including an 89-yard return that set up the Pioneers' go ahead score in the fourth quarter.
"We are always working hard on the running game," said Marshall, whose all-purpose yards total was the third highest single-game effort in school history.
"We take what the defense gives us. They weren't respecting the run tonight. We want to show people that they have to take responsibility for the (running backs)."
Marshall was the main option in the backfield, due to injuries to sophomores Chad Blakely and B.J. Spradlin. Marshall started to feel the effects from the extra carries as the game wore on.
"I was just taking shots here and there," Marshall said.
At one point, running backs coach Caleb Slover told DeBusk that Marshall couldn't go anymore.
"I said, 'He's going'," DeBusk said. "Then he broke that 40-yard run there at the very end of the ball game to get us out of the hole. He really responded well."
"He's got a lot of hurt, a lot of courage. He got beat and banged, probably can't practice tomorrow and thank goodness we don't practice Monday."
Tusculum's defense gave up real estate in large amounts as North Greenville finished with a 536-444 advantage in total yards. But the Pioneers' bend-but-don't-break approach came up with big plays when it needed to more times than not.
North Greenville was up 7-0 and on the move again midway through the first quarter when Tusculum's Rocky Jones recovered a fumble forced by Jonathan Wimberly.
The Pioneers turned that into a 33-yard touchdown pass from Cordell to Jonathan Diliberto to tie the game at 7-7. It marked the first time this season that Tusculum has scored in the first quarter.
The Tusculum defense came up with a big stop on the next North Greenville possession as well, and the Crusaders ended up missing a 46-yard field goal attempt. The Pioneers once again took advantage, marching 72 yards in 10 plays, capped by a one-yard pass from Cordell to Justin Houston. Tusculum led 14-0 at the half.
"I really think our defensive football team just kept giving us chances," DeBusk said.
That was the case in the second half, as well.
North Greenville drove down to the Tusculum 15-yard line to begin the third quarter, but again came away with no points as Evan Dansby forced a fumble that was recovered by Darien Crank.
The Crusaders eventually tied the game late in the third when Joe Carter connected with Freddie Martino on a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Carter finished 22-of-39 for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Tusculum answered when Diliberto caught his second touchdown of the night, this time from 15-yards out. A missed extra point left the score at 20-14 heading into the fourth.
The Pioneers were in North Greenville territory again with about 11 minutes to play, but Cordell had a pass tipped and Braelen Meredith came down with it for the Crusaders.
Troy Jones then scampered 41 yards and Bartino scored from four yards out to put North Greenville in front 21-20.
Tusculum quickly answered, though. Marshall returned the ensuing kick-off 89 yards to set up a Powell touchdown catch.
North Greenville proceeded to drive to the TC 17 before being stopped on fourth down with 4:50 left in the game.
The Pioneers had it second down-and-17 at their own 11 when Cordell hooked up with Xzanvion Smith for an 84-yard gain. Marshall needed just one play to rumble into the end zone.
LiRonta Archie intercepted a Carter pass in the final minutes to seal the Tusculum win.
"We never give up, no matter how long they have the ball," Archie said of the Pioneers' defensive effort for the night. "It felt like we had been on the field for like ten minutes sometimes. We never give up, still out there fighting."
North Greenville 7 0 7 7 -- 21
Tusculum 7 7 6 13 -- 33
NGU - Taylor Malphrus 8 yd run (Justin Gravely kick)
TC - Johnathan Diliberto, 33 yd pass from Bo Cordell (Brandon Burkey kick)
TC - Justin Houston, 1 yd pass from Cordell ( Burkey kick)
NGU - Freddie Martino, 23 yd pass from Joseph Carter (Gravely kick)
TC - Diliberto, 15 yd pass from Cordell (kick failed)
NGU - Freddie Martino 4 yd run (Gravely kick)
TC - Wesley Powell, 8 yd pass from Cordell (kick blockd)
TC - Brian Marshall 5 yd run (Burkey kick)
First Downs 31 21
Passing (Att-Com-Int) 47-25-1 40-25-1
Yds. Passing 283 322
Yds. Rushing 253 122
Total Offense 536 444
Fumbles Lost 2 0
Penalties 11-97 9-80
Punt Avg. 5-35.4 7-42.6
RUSHING: North Greenville-Darius Paulk 15-64; Joseph Carter 9-62; Troy Jones 1-41; Darius Custard 6-26; Classe Thompson 6-20; Tyrell Hillary 5-16; Taylor Malphrus 1-8; Harold Small 2-7; Matthew Harris 1-6; Freddie Martino 2-3. Tusculum-Brian Marshall 13-90; Bo Cordell 6-13; Chad Blakely 5-10; Trey McCoy 3-9.
PASSING: North Greenville-Joseph Carter 22-39-1-235; Tyrell Hillary 2-6-0-21; Freddie Martino 0-1-0-0; Jacob Buckley 1-1-0-27. Tusculum-Bo Cordell 25-40-1-322.
RECEIVING: North Greenville-Freddie Martino 9-136; Kamrie Connell 6-48; Troy Jones 4-34; Taylor Malphrus 2-15; Darren Foster 1-27; Harold Small 1-12; Ashton Heard 1-7; Darius Paulk 1-4. Tusculum-Wesley Powell 8-78; Brian Marshall 7-54; Johnathan Diliberto 3-50; Xzanvion Smith 2-120; Ken Funnye 2-10; Justin Houston 2-1; Trey McCoy 1-9.