RICHMOND, Ky. – For the first time in school history, the University of Tennessee at Martin football team pulled off a 16-7 victory over Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Kentucky at Roy Kidd Stadium. Going into the game the Skyhawks were winless in their previous 11 visits to Eastern Kentucky dating back to 1973.
In addition to the Skyhawks (7-4, 5-2 OVC) first road victory at EKU, eighth-year head coach Jason Simpson secured the team’s second consecutive winning season. Simpson is just the first head coach to secure back-to-back winning seasons since George MacIntyre accomplished the feat in 1976 (8-3) and 1976 (8-3)
Sophomore placekicker Jackson Redditt stole the show for the Skyhawks today, converting on 3-of-4 field goal opportunities, including knocks from 45 and 51 yards. Redditt’s 51-yard field goal ranked as the longest field goal since Nov. 19, 2011 when the Skyhawks visited Eastern Kentucky. His three field goals ranked as the highest single-game performance since Cody Sandlin nailed three attempts in the season opener against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1, 2011.
Junior tailback Abou Toure paced the Skyhawk rushing attack with tallied 215 yards on the ground this afternoon. Toure tallied 111 yards on 17 carries, including a 54-yard carry. Senior DJ McNeil tallied 55 yards on 14 carries, tallying one touchdown.
Sophomore Jarod Neal got the start at quarterback for the Skyhawks, completing 5-of-10 passes for 18 yards. Dylan Favre completed 13-of-15 attempts 138 yards.
Standout senior wide receiver Jeremy Butler tallied yet another 100 yard game, notching 103 yards on nine receptions. Today’s game was Butler’s fifth 100-yard game of the season and eighth of his career.
Defensively, the Skyhawks proved to be too much for the Colonels, holding EKU just 222 yards of total offense and forcing three turnovers. It was senior linebacker Ben Johnson who tallied another terrific game. Johnson tallied 11 total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and a 42-yard interception return. Senior Thad Williams tallied seven tackles on the day, as did junior Tony Bell. Bell notched a team high 1.5 tackles for loss, including a 14-yard sack.
“It’s about time that we have got rid of all of those first time accomplishments,” said Simpson. “We have become an established program in the league and have won the second most games in the conference over the last eight years. I’m very proud of the way our guys played today. I’m proud of DJ coming back and with Abou being able to spark us early, gave us a big boost. You saw good team football, where you do what you’ve got to do in order to get the victory.”
Quarterback Kyle Romano led the way for the Colonels. Appearing in relief of starter Jared McClain, Romano completed 8-of-22 passes for 116 yards through the air while rushing for 48 yards on six carries and one touchdown.
With the Colonels opening the game with possession, the Skyhawk defense quickly flexed their muscles. Senior Bobby Ellis got the game’s opening tackle on a sweep across the left side, forcing a fumble. The Skyhawks quickly jumped on the loose ball as Tony Bell recovered the fumble, setting up great field possession for the Skyhawks on the Colonels’ own 25.
Beginning their drive with great field position, the Skyhawks capitalized on the early defensive stand by scoring the game’s first points. After three plays and a penalty, the Skyhawks called on sophomore placekicker Redditt to get the Skyhawks on the board. Redditt would nail the 38-yard attempt, giving the Skyhawks the early 3-0 lead with 13:20 to play in the first quarter.
The Skyhawks would get on the board again just two drives later. Facing third and four, freshman Najee Ray broke a tackle, picking up the conversion on a 27-yard carry across the right side. Ray’s conversion kept the Skyhawks alive as they moved down the field before eventually tacking on another field goal. Redditt set up for a 51-yard field goal, sailing the attempt through the uprights. Redditt’s 51-yard field goal set a career-long.
UT Martin would look to increase their advantage in the second quarter, mainly behind a 54-yard rush by Toure across the right sideline. The Skyhawks would set up at the EKU 25 before attempting a 36-yard field goal. Unlike the previous two, Redditt’s attempt would have no chance as the kick was blocked at the line by the Colonels.
The Skyhawks would begin their next drive with solid field position, starting at the EKU 46. Favre would hit Ray for an 11-yard completion before connecting with Butler for eight yards. Toure would tally consecutive runs of eight and 10 yards, respectively, before McNeil’s number was called. McNeil found a gap in the left side of the line, rumbling for a nine yard touchdown. The touchdown was McNeil’s seventh of the season and 21st of his career, taking sole possession of third place on the UT Martin all-time rushing touchdowns list.
The Colonels waited until the second half before getting going, scoring on their opening drive to slice into the Skyhawk lead. Highlighted in large part by a 42-yard pass connect from Romano to Borders, the Colonels marched down the field. Eastern Kentucky would eventually cap off the successful drive with a one-yard quarterback keeper up the middle. Following the extra point attempt by Andrew Lloyd, the Colonels cut the deficit in half, trailing the Skyhawks 13-7 with 9:20 to play in the third quarter.
UT Martin would tack on some insurance in the fourth quarter, calling on Redditt yet again. With the Skyhawks pinned deep in their own territory, Favre hit Butler for a 36-yard reception as the receiver leaped over the defender to snare the pass. The Skyhawks would continue marching down the field following a completion to Garland for a first down. Redditt’s fourth field goal attempt of the day came from 45-yards. As his attempt sailed through the uprights, the Skyhawks pushed their lead to a two-score margin with 11:19 to play in the game.
On Eastern Kentucky’s ensuing possession, it was Harris who came up with a big interception. With the Colonels advancing down the field, Harris jumped the receivers route for the interception. Harris’s interception was his fourth of the season and third consecutive game with an interception.
Facing the length of the field and just over two minutes to play, the Colonels made their final push towards the endzone. EKU’s hopes for a comeback were quickly forgotten as Johnson picked off Romano, returning the pick for 42 yards. Following a pair of downs courtesy of the victory formation, the Skyhawks earned the 16-7 win, snapping a 40-year, 11-game drought at Kidd Stadium.
“We control our dream,” said Simpson. “No one can tell us that our dream is over, we get to go play this next weekend and anything can happen.”
The Skyhawks will now turn their attention to OVC power No. 2 Eastern Illinois when the Panthers come to town to close out the season on Saturday, Nov. 23. Kickoff from Hardy Graham Stadium for the Skyhawks final playoff push is schedule for 1 p.m.