Postgame Press Conference
RICHMOND, Ky. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team saw its struggles continue as four key turnovers proved to be too much to overcome as the Skyhawks dropped their third consecutive game with a 31-21 setback to Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
The Skyhawks (3-4, 1-3 OVC) broke loose from its offensive woes of late, snapping a 10-quarter offensive scoreless streak with a pair of passing touchdowns on the day, but it was the team’s four turnovers – three on offense and one on special teams which proved costly.
UT Martin would manage 254 yards of total offense on the day, including 216 of which through the air. The Skyhawks featured two quarterbacks as true freshman Dresser Winn made his collegiate debut with the start under center. Winn completed 7-of-15 pass attempts for 99 yards and a touchdown. Senior Troy Cook appeared in the four quarter, completing 7-of-10 attempts for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Pacing the receiving core was sophomore Jaylon Moore with four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Fellow classmate Christian Philpott also posted a solid outing, hauling in four receptions for 77 yards. Senior Londell Lee joined in the action, making the most of his two catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively the Skyhawks struggled up front. After entering the contest ranked sixth in the nation in rushing defense, UT Martin allowed an uncharacteristic 229 yards on the ground. Junior linebacker Kevin Prather, Jr. paced the squad with 12 tackles on the afternoon while senior safety Kahlid Hagens also eclipsed double figures with 10 tackles of his own.
“The turnovers really got us,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “Giving up short fields really took the wind out of our sails. We didn’t stop the run on defense which is unusual. They ran the ball well, controlled the lineup scrimmage and didn’t turn the ball over. Give them credit for that. We started a freshman quarterback, kids rallied around him, played hard and might have tried to do a little too much. If we aren’t going to compete for a conference championship, we are going to turn things over to our young kids and they will improve.”
UT Martin would take a 7-3 lead into halftime after the Skyhawks snapped a lengthy scoreless streak midway through the second quarter. After struggling to find much momentum with his new offense, Winn would use a play action fake to scramble right before looking downfield to find a streaking Moore for a 67-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
The game remained at that score until the third drive of the third quarter. After consecutive Skyhawk offensive drives ended on fumbles, Eastern Kentucky took over on the UTM five. Sitting on the doorstep of the endzone, the Colonels turned to Jason Lewis who scampered five yards for the touchdown to give the Homecoming fans a 10-7 advantage.
The lead would be short-lived however as the Skyhawks found some magic in another true freshman on the following play. On the ensuing kickoff following the touchdown, Peyton Logan would turn on the jets and run up the middle 95 yards for a kickoff return for a touchdown. The touchdown was the first for the Skyhawks since October of 2012 against Eastern Illinois.
Trailing 14-10, Eastern Kentucky would charge back with three consecutive touchdown drives in the third quarter. The second of which would be punctuated by a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Ethan Thomas to give EKU a 17-14 lead. The Colonels would then strike again with another six-yard rush by Thomas to make it a 10-point margin heading into the fourth quarter.
EKU would cap off its scoring contributions on the first drive of the fourth period. The Colonels would move into Skyhawk territory before an eight-yard rush by Daryl McCleskey put the home squad on top 31-14.
Facing a 17-point deficit, UT Martin would look to make the game interesting down the stretch. After starting their drive near mid-field, the Skyhawks continued to drive with Cook back at quarterback. The senior would move the squad down the field, earning a pair of first downs before finding Lee over the middle for a 24-yard strike to make it 31-21.
UT Martin will return to action when hosting OVC foe Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 28. Kickoff from Hardy M. Graham Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.