October 22, 2016

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The University of Tennessee at Martin football team battled but ultimately fell to its third Football Bowl Championship foe of the season with a 31-6 setback to Sun Belt member Georgia State in the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon.

The Skyhawks (4-4) snapped a brief two-game winning streak in the contest despite a strong defensive performance after holding Georgia State to just 285 yards of total offense, ranking as the second-best defensive performance in terms of yards allowed against a FBS squad in school history. Today’s effort trails only the 2006 UT Martin team, which allowed just 144 yards at FBS member Ohio on Sept. 2, 2006.

Defensively it was junior Kahlid Hagens who once again paced the Skyhawks with 10 total tackles – including eight solo stops – marking the third double-digit tackle performance of the season. Senior Caleb Counce pushed his team-leading sack total to four with five tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack in the contest. While the defense forced a pair of turnovers with interceptions by Joseph Este and Kevin Prather, Jr., the offense was limited throughout the game.  

The Skyhawks tallied just 15 first downs on the afternoon while tallying 320 yards of total offense. The ground attack featured 31 carries for 110 net yards while the pass game completed 20-of-40 passes for 210 yards and no touchdowns. Along with the ability to break through with a touchdown, a pair of critical turnovers via a fumble and interception return led to 14 of the Panthers 31 points in the contest.

“I think we wasted a good effort by our defense today,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “Anytime you hold a FBS team to 285 yards and force two turnovers, you feel like you have a chance to win. Offensively we just didn’t have a good game plan. The plays that were there, we either didn’t makr or we turn the ball over. It just was not a very good showing and it is very disappointing because this game doesn’t represent our football team.”

Georgia State (2-5) posted its second victory of the game behind a Homecoming crowd which totaled 15,223 fans. The Panthers benefited from reserve quarterback who was thrust into action by completing 8-of-16 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown through the air while leading the team with 16 rush attempts for 75 yards on the ground. The duo of Darius Stubbs and Glenn Smith each tallied touchdowns in the contest while Marterious Allen (23-yard fumble recovery) and B.J. Clay (38-yard interception return) scored on the defensive side of the ball.

UT Martin started the game in unfamiliar territory. After beginning six of the team’s first seven games with an early lead, it was Georgia State who got on the scoreboard first in the contest late in the first period. After stringing together a long drive on their opening possession, Georgia State could not punch it in as the Skyhawks stalled the drive with a defensive stop on the two. After falling short, the Panthers would respond on their ensuing drive. The Panthers would tally three first downs to move inside the redzone before a seven-yard completion from Winchester to Smith would break the scoreless tie.

Georgia State would push its lead out to 10 points midway through the second quarter. With a prime field position out of the gates, the Panthers would ultimately get all the way down to the six-yard line before the Skyhawks tallied three consecutive defensive stops. Forced to attempt a field goal, Rogier Ten Lohuis would split the uprights with a 23-yard field goal to make it a 10-0 contest.

UT Martin would look to string together its best drive of the first half in the final minutes of the second period. The Skyhawks would nearly see the drive stall on the first set of downs but a big third-down conversion from Troy Cook to freshman Rod Williams for 37 yards would not only give the Skyhawks a first down but reverse the field. The Skyhawks would need another big conversion, this time on fourth-and-six as Cook found senior Greg McKillion for a 17-yard pass to breathe new life. Set up just outside of the redzone, Mitch Mersman would post a new career-long by booting a 44-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game heading into the break.

Georgia State looked to pad its lead in the third quarter but it was the team’s defense which left its mark. With UT Martin driving down the field, the Panthers’ Kaleb Ringer would force a fumble by Najee Ray before Allen returned the ball 23 yards into the endzone. The defense would make another stand on the following drive as Clay tallied his first of two interceptions while returning the pick-six 38 yards for the team’s second defensive touchdown of the third quarter to take a 24-3 lead.

The Skyhawks would finally put some more points on the board in the fourth quarter. With Cook re-entering the game, he would string together a scoring drive which featured 10 plays for 54 yards. Cook would find Ben Axline for an 11-yard completion before Marquez Grayson ripped off a 19-yard carry. With the drive stalling just outside of the redzone, the Skyhawks would turn to Mersman once again where he made a 39-yard field goal to trim the deficit to 24-6.

With the Skyhawks’ first team defense taking the rest of the afternoon off, Georgia State pounced on the opportunity to pad the team’s lead. After a pair of carries by Stubbs would tally a first down, the ball-carrier would break loose for a 35-yard touchdown scamper down the right sideline to put the finishing touches on the 31-6 victory.

“Our total focus is now on Eastern Kentucky,” said Simpson. “We are 3-1 in league play and today’s results gives a couple of teams two losses. We know that we still control our own destiny with four games left and that’s all we can ask at this point.”

UT Martin will return to action on Saturday, Oct. 29 when the Skyhawks play host to Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff from Hardy M. Graham Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.