LEBANON -- Cumberland overcame a sluggish start and rallied to defeat Kentucky Christian 33-17 Saturday at Lindsey Donnell Stadium / Kirk Field before a near capacity crowd.
The Bulldogs (2-1) started the game with a pair of fumbles, leading to nine KCU points, but Allant McLemore returned an interception 49 yards for a score in the second quarter and Jarad White booted a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half, giving CU a 10-9 advantage at intermission.
Lemeco Miller gave Cumberland a 17-9 lead with a three-yard TD run early in the third period, but KCU (1-3) tied the contest on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Beau Dailey and a two-point conversion.
The Bulldogs responded on their next possession, with Loveless hooking up with Quan Johnson on a 46 yard post route and a 24-17 edge. Later in the quarter the punt snap sailed over the head of KCUs Matt Prewitt, who recovered the bouncing ball as he was running out of the end zone.
Miller added his second rushing touchdown, this one from 18 yards, with 59 seconds remaining in the game, icing the contest for Cumberland in the home opener for CU.
Redshirt freshman QB Loveless finished the game 12-of-21 for 205 yards and one touchdown, hitting James McClain five times for 105 yards, including a 42-yard completion just before the half that set up Whites field goal. Miller rushed 11 times for 58 yards and two scores.
The Cumberland defense gave up 90 yards on Kentucky Christians first two possessions but then limited the Knights to 179 yards the rest of the contest. The Bulldogs finished with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Ben Miller and Stephon Ransom both finished with 10 tackles for CU while Miller grabbed a one-handed interception to stop a KCU drive early in the fourth at the CU two-yard line.
CUs DaJuan Manning returned the opening kickoff 39 yards but then fumbled, with Jimmy Curtis recovering. The Knights marched 10 plays and 54 yards before Deonte Merricks avoided one tackler and dived into the endzone from three yards out. KCU missed the extra point for a 6-0 advantage.
Cumberland moved the ball down the field but fumbled again when Lemeco Miller could not get a handle on the pitch from Loveless. KCU recovered at its 41 and moved 36 yards before Ben Miller knocked away the third down pass. Andrew Slikker knocked through a 41-yard field, giving the Knights a 9-0 lead with 5:20 left in the first period.
The Bulldogs were finally able to get on the board midway through the second quarter when McLemore stepped in front of an errant pass and galloped 49 yards for a touchdown, the seventh defensive score for Cumberland in the last three seasons.
Kentucky Christian made a mistake at the end of the half that allowed the Bulldogs to take the lead to intermission. The Knights missed a 44-yard field goal in the final minute and Loveless hit McClain with two passes, including a 42-yard completion, setting up a field goal on the final play of the period.
Cumberland moved prematurely before the snap and White missed a 41-yard attempt, but James Brack roughed the kicker, giving White another chance. He nailed the 36-yarder on an untimed down, giving CU a 10-9 edge at the break.
The Bulldogs managed just 111 yards of total offense in the first half, including 55 on the final drive, while the Knights posted 156 yards, but just 66 after the opening two drives.
Cumberland looked much more in sync on its opening drive of the second half, with Miller capping an eight-play, 65-yard drive with a three-yard run and a 17-9 CU lead.
Kentucky Christian moved the ball down the field late in the third quarter but Connor McChurch pressured KCU quarterback Graham Johnston into an ill-advised pass near the endzone and Ben Miller made the acrobatic interception. But Tyler Emmetts 19-yard punt setup the Knights with good field position on their next drive.
Dailey made a one-handed catch in the back corner of the endzone to star the fourth quarter. Johnstons two-point throw to Tony Prater was knocked away by Michael Shannon, but he was flagged for pass interference, one of 23 accepted penalties in the contest. Merrick ran in the two-point conversion to knot the game at 17.
Three plays into the ensuing possession Loveless and Johnson hooked up for the 46-yard score. The Bulldogs added the safety at 9:54 in the fourth quarter and then put the game away with Lemeco Millers 18-yard run with 59 seconds left in the contest.
Cumberland heads to West Virginia Tech next Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. Central Time contest.