YouTube: Postgame Press Conference
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team dazzled fans on both sides of the ball before coming away with a dominating 33-3 victory over Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. The victory served as the first win over the Colonels at home since Oct. 16, 2010.
The Skyhawks (5-4, 4-1 OVC) dominated from start to finish in the contest, allowing just three points – ranking as the fewest points allowed against an OVC foe since shutting out Tennessee State (37-0) on Nov. 13, 2010. Along with the low scoring output, Eastern Kentucky was held to a season-low 229 yards of total offense. Conversely, the Skyhawks proved up to the task on both sides of the ball, tallying 509 yards of total offense – including 364 rushing yards – while notching a defensive touchdown and a blocked field goal to leave their mark in every facet of the game.
Highlighting the offensive side of the ball was UT Martin’s potent ground attack which notched a season-best 364 rushing yards – ranking as the highest single-game output since tallying 404 at Murray State on Nov. 1, 2014. After missing the past two games, senior Ladevin Fair returned to action and left his fingerprints throughout the boxscore by tallying career highs with 25 carries, 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On top of his potent ground attack, Fair totaled 207 yards of total offense with 26 yards receiving while throwing one pass for a 33-yard touchdown. Joining in the ground attack was sophomore Jaimiee Bowe who tallied 20 carries for 92 yards, just missing out on his third 100-yard rushing performance of the season.
Junior quarterback Troy Cook manned an efficient offense, completing 8-of-15 passes for 112 yards while tallying 57 yards rushing. Senior Ben Axline led the receiving core with two catches for 48 yards while sophomore CJ McElrath made the most of his single catch on the afternoon, tallying his second touchdown of the season.
For as dominant as UT Martin was on offense, the team’s defense was equally or more impressive. The Skyhawks allowed just three points on the day, with the team’s lone points allowed coming on a drive which started within the Colonels redzone. Junior safety Kahlid Hagens paced the team in tackles for the fifth time this season with his fourth double-digit tackle performance of 11. The defensive trio of Mike Turner (1.0), Caleb Counce (0.5) and Keith Jones (0.5) each got to the quarterback for sacks while the unit tallied six tackles for loss as a whole. The Skyhawks made the most of its lone forced turnover of the day as James Gilleylen returned an interception for the Skyhawks fourth touchdown of the season.
“Obviously we are very excited for the win,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “This was an emotional game for us because we have been playing really good defense lately and we challenged our offense all week to meet that mark. I feel like we lost our grass roots the past couple of games and that falls back on me and the coaching staff. This week we wanted to get back to being balanced and being able to run the football anytime we want and we certainly did that. This was a good program win because we showed exactly what this program is all about, playing hard, playing with a chip on your shoulder and playing for your teammates.”
Eastern Kentucky would get on the board to start the game after forcing a key fumble deep in UT Martin’s territory. Taquad Evans would tally a strip sack before jumping on the loose ball for a recovery, giving the Colonels opening field position on the Skyhawk 19. Already in the redzone, the Colonels would move ball down to the one-yard line before the Skyhawks came up stiff at the goal line. Facing fourth and goal from the three, Eastern Kentucky would turn to Lucas Williams who kicked a 20-yard field goal to take an early advantage.
UT Martin would take its first lead of the game and never look back on the team’s third drive of the contest. The Skyhawks would hit the ground attack hard as Bowe broke loose for a 16-yard carry to tally a first down. Later on the drive when facing third down, Fair would notch a first down before ripping a 40-yard carry up the middle to flip the field and move the Skyhawks inside the redzone. A quarterback keeper by Cook would tally 11 yards to set up first and goal before Fair capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown to put the Skyhawks on top.
The Skyhawks would look to pad its advantage in the final minutes of the first quarter before ultimately finding the endzone in the second. Cook would look to move the ball through the air, finding Fair for a 17-yard completion before checking down to find Axline for a 16-yard reception. With the ball near midfield, Bowe would tally an 18-yard carry to move into EKU territory to end the first quarter. With a new quarter on the board, the Skyhawks would turn to a trick play to make a statement as Fair took a carry to the right side before looking downfield and tossing a 33-yard touchdown to tight end CJ McElrath.
With just a minute left in the first half, Eastern Kentucky looked for a final push down the field. After taking over possession following an interception of their own, the Colonels would give the ball right back on their first play from scrimmage. With the ball on the EKU 12, Swafford would be intercepted by Gilleylen who returned the interception nine yards for a touchdown. The interception marked the second of his career and fourth interception returned for a touchdown by the Skyhawks this season. Following the pick-six, the Skyhawks would take a 21-3 lead into the break.
The second half would begin with Eastern Kentucky taking the opening drive. The Colonels would move the ball down the field and into the redzone following a 49-yard completion from Swafford to Devin Borders. Despite moving inside the redzone once again, the Colonels would be forced to kick a 33-yard field goal which would be blocked by a leaping Tae Martin to stall the offensive drive.
Following the big stop, UT Martin would begin its next scoring drive on the team’s own 20. After consecutive rush attempts to start the drive, Cook would find senior Kyle Kerrick for a 20-yard completion to move the Skyhawks towards midfield. A personal foul would move the Skyhawks just outside of the redzone before Fair broke loose once again for a 26-yard touchdown, his second of the game to give the Skyhawks a 27-3 advantage.
The Skyhawks would put the finishing touches on the contest with a long final drive which totaled 13 play, 70 yards and ate up over eight minutes of play. Looking to milk the clock, the Skyhawks would turn to the ground attack for all 13 plays highlighted by seven rushes by Fair which totaled 43 yards and moved the Skyhawks inside the redzone. With the Skyhawks within striking distance, the squad would turn the reigns over to Terrance Hollingsworth who completed the drive with a three-yard touchdown for his first career touchdown.
UT Martin will return to action on Saturday, Nov. 5 when the Skyhawks travel to No. 22 Eastern Illinois. Kickoff from O’Brien Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.