Former Campbell County High School standouts Troy Arnold, Phillip and Stephen Wells, and Jellico alum Dustin Buckner have been key contributors this season for the playoff-bound University of the Cumberlands football team.
Arnold, a sophomore linebacker, has played in all 10 games for the Patriots. He is the sixth-leading tackler on the team with 48 total stops and has also forced 3 fumbles, recovered 2 fumbles — one of which he returned for a touchdown — and intercepted 2 passes.
Phillip Wells, also a sophomore, has scored 3 touchdowns as a reserve quarterback.
Phillip’s twin brother, Stephen, is a regular on special teams and has also gotten playing time at safety in two games. Buckner, a junior, is a receiver on the team.
The Patriots (7-3 overall), who have won 6 of their last 7 games, clinched the Mid-South Conference western division title Saturday with a 52-27 rout of 17th ranked Cumberland University.
With its latest victory, UC grabbed the final at large bid available for the NAIA playoffs that begin this weekend.
The Patriots will travel to Chicago to face 3rd-ranked Saint Xavier University at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The winner will advance to the national quarterfinals on Nov. 27.
“This season has been an interesting year, because we have fought a lot of battles,” said Phillip Wells.
“It’s been an awesome experience to be a part of a team that has won four conference championships in a row, even though I’ve only been a part of two of them.”
During last week’s division clinching victory over Cumberland University, Phillip Wells had to take command of the offense during the second half when the Patriots’ starting quarterback was injured. Wells threw a 40-yard pass on his first drive of the game and followed it up with a touchdown run.
The Patriots are averaging 39.9 points per game with the 4th best rushing offense in the NAIA (273 yards a game).
UC’s punt return unit is ranked 1st nationally in yards (23) per attempt.
Defensively, the Patriots are among the NAIA leaders in opponents’ third down conversions percentage.
“I just want to say to our boys that we are blessed and have grown a lot over the last year physically, mentally, resiliently and spiritually,” stated UC coach John Bland.
“I’m most proud of how they fought through adversity and were able to win the Western Division.
“I’m very proud of this team, and winning a new strong MSC West division has made it extra special.
“The impact of these kids is something I just get to sit back for and say thank you to them for everything they sacrifice.”
Saturday’s playoff opener between UC and Saint Xavier will be broadcast on 104.3 FM and also at www.cumberlandspatriots.com.
Saint Xavier boasts an 11-0 record after winning its second consecutive Mid-States Football Association Mideast League Championship.
The Cougars are tops in the NAIA in passing yardage (3,702), 2nd in scoring offense (50.6 pts. per game) and ranked near the top nationally in scoring defense.