Football Gameday Central

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SKYHAWKS SET TO OVC CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWDOWN AT NO. 2 JACKSONVILLE STATE

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The University of Tennessee at Martin football team will travel to No. 2 Jacksonville State on Saturday, Nov. 19 for a winner-takes-all matchup for the Ohio Valley Conference title. With a win the Skyhawks will notch the program’s first conference championship since 2006 while clinching the league’s automatic berth into the FCS Playoffs. Kickoff from JSU Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The Skyhawks (7-4, 6-1 OVC) enter the contest riding a five-game conference winning streak behind a balanced offense and powerful defense which ranks amongst league leaders in nearly every category. A big reason for the Skyhawks’ strong campaign has been the team’s play at home where they notched the program’s 10th unbeaten season and first since 1991 with a 5-0 mark at newly renovated Hardy M. Graham Stadium following a 24-10 victory their last time out. UT Martin goes into the final week of the regular season ranking as one of just 13 teams in the nation with one or fewer losses in FCS play.

UT Martin ranks first in the OVC in scoring average (34.5 ppg), interceptions (16), turnovers gained (26) and sacks against (13). The team’s defense has been strong down the stretch, ranking second in the league in scoring defense (23.2 ppg), total defense (323.9 ypg), pass defense (202.3 ypg) and rushing defense (121.6 ypg) to limit opponents to just 10 points per game over their last three games. The squad is led by defensive quarterback Kahlid Hagens who notched his second consecutive OVC Defensive Player of the Week after tallying a pair of interceptions against Southeast Missouri to push his season total to four.

UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson improved his overall record to 72-53 and 57-31 in league play with last week’s victory. The 11-year veteran needs just one win to tie Jacksonville State’s Jack Crowe with 73 career victories on the OVC’s all-time wins leaderboard. Jacksonville State is led by third-year head coach John Grass who owns a 32-5 overall mark.

Jacksonville State (9-1, 6-0 OVC) enters the contest having already clinched at least a share of its third consecutive OVC title while boasting a No. 2 ranking in each of the major FCS polls. The Gamecocks are riding a 22-game conference winning streak dating back to the 2013 season. JSU ranks as one of the most potent offenses and defenses in the nation – leading the OVC in total defense and offense - with their 246.1 yards per game allowed ranking tops nationally.

The Gamecocks are led offensively by National Player of the Year candidate Eli Jenkins. The dual-threat quarterback has completed 142-of-269 passes for 1,863 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air while pacing the team with 137 carries for 741 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Jenkins is supported by the two-headed monster of former Auburn transfer Roc Thomas (112 carries for 708 yards and nine touchdowns) and Josh Clemons (134 carries for 678 yards and nine touchdowns) which boasts the league’s top rushing attack.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jacksonville State boast the league’s top total defense along with stringent pass and rush attacks. As a whole the Gamecocks have tallied 89 tackles for loss (third nationally) and 36 sacks (second nationally) to go along with 14 interceptions.

Saturday’s matchup marks the 38th meeting between the two rivals dating back to the program’s Division II Gulf Coast Conference days. Jacksonville State holds a sizable 30-7 advantage with UT Martin’s last road victory in the series coming on Oct. 31, 1987. With Jacksonville State ranked No. 1 in the country last season, UT Martin challenged the eventual national title runner-up in a 48-41 contest which marked the Gamecocks’ slimmest margin of victory in conference play.

The game will be featured as the OVC Football Game of the Week on ESPN3 or WatchESPN app with Bob Belvin (play-by-play) and Chip Hoback (color) calling the action. Fans can also tune into Mix 101.3 FM to hear Tom Britt (play-by-play), Chris Brinkley (color) and John Abel (sideline) provide analysis while WUTM, UT Martin’s award-winning student radio station, will also broadcast the game on 90.3 FM. Links for both radio broadcasts, along with live stats can be accessed through their respective links above. For in-game updates, follow the Skyhawks on twitter @UTM_Gameday.