FOOTBALL TEAM CONCLUDES 2012 SEASON WITH OVC'S BEST OVERALL WINNING PERCENTAGE
November 19, 2012
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MARTIN, Tenn. – Despite the fact that The University of Tennessee at Martin was not selected to participate in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, head coach Jason Simpson and the Skyhawks chalked up several positives in the 2012 campaign.
The Skyhawks wrap up the season with an 8-3 overall record, which is tied for the best winning percentage (.727) in the OVC. That mark also ranks as the second-highest winning percentage in program history, behind only the 2006 OVC championship team which went 9-3.
In conference play, UT Martin tied a program record with six OVC victories against only two losses. The Skyhawks racked up 39.9 points per game against league opposition and defeated OVC regular season champion Eastern Illinois by a 51-37 margin on Oct. 6 – the Panthers’ only conference loss of the season.
With that said, when the FCS bracket popped up on the screen on Sunday, UT Martin – as well as a few other OVC teams – were left out of the 20-team playoff field despite the fact that the OVC is ranked as the fourth-best league in the College Sporting News’ Gridiron Power Index.
“In my opinion, UT Martin and Eastern Kentucky had better resumes than other teams selected for at-large bids in the playoff, but for whatever reasons the OVC lacks the national respect I think we deserve,” Skyhawk athletic director Phil Dane said. “Our teams are playing tougher non-conference schedules and winning many of those games, yet it’s still not paying off when the committee considers OVC members.”
UT Martin started its season off with arguably the biggest victory in program history – a 20-17 triumph over in-state Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Memphis. The Skyhawks then were competitive throughout in a matchup at current FBS No. 24 Northern Illinois before reeling off wins in six of their next seven games.
After a narrow overtime loss at Tennessee Tech on Nov. 10, UT Martin rebounded with a 35-26 win over No. 23 Tennessee State on Saturday, the second ranked team that the Skyhawks had defeated in 2012. That victory capped off a share of the Sgt. Alvin C. York Trophy for UT Martin, the second time in the last three years that the Skyhawks had earned the award for excellence amongst the OVC’s four Tennessee institutions.
“The ultimate goal every season is to get to the playoffs,” Simpson said. “We strengthened our schedule this year with two FBS teams and a quality Southeastern Louisiana team. We’d love to trade the Memphis win for another OVC win so we could’ve gotten in the playoffs. We are disappointed but I am very proud of our team and eight quality wins.”
UT Martin’s offense boasted two of the nation’s best in seniors Derek Carr and Quentin Sims. Carr finished the season ranking 10th in the nation in total offense (297.2 yards per game) while throwing for 3,276 yards and completing 63.6 percent of his passes. The McKenzie native piled up 31 touchdowns (the second-most behind Tony Romo in OVC history), including a pair of games with seven touchdown strikes while tossing only two interceptions in his final 286 attempts. Sims caught a touchdown pass in nine of 11 games this season, including an OVC-record five scores against Jacksonville State on Nov. 3. Overall, his 16 touchdown receptions rank as the most in a single-season in OVC history.
Junior wide receiver Jeremy Butler was also a reliable target for UT Martin, hauling in 10 touchdown passes, becoming just the third player in program history to tally double-digit touchdown totals in a single season. On the ground, the trio of Tevin Barksdale (539 yards), Jason McNair (460) and DJ McNeil (402) accounted for over 1,400 yards and a dozen touchdowns – including nine by McNeil.
In the trenches, a veteran group led by senior Michael Bryant helped the Skyhawks concede just 12 sacks all season long, allowing one or less sacks in eight contests.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Ben Johnson compiled an OVC-best 131 tackles (11.9 per game). Johnson, Tony Bell and Montori Hughes each accounted for a team-high four sacks, while DJ Roberts and Chris Wright paced UT Martin with 11.5 and 11 tackles for loss, respectively. The stingy Skyhawk defense pressured their opponents into 26 turnovers – led by four apiece by Fred Flenorl (three forced fumbles, one interception) and Jett Howard (two interceptions, two forced fumbles).
Special teams was also a bright spot for UT Martin, as the Skyhawks led the league in punt return average (16.5) and kickoff coverage (40.8 yard net average). Punter James Satterfield (42.5 yard average) boomed seven punts over 50 yards – including a 73-yard boot at Tennessee Tech that ranks as the second-longest punt in Skyhawk history. Senior kicker Cody Sandlin was 44-for-45 in PAT attempts while also adding nine field goals to end his storied career just two points shy of the program’s career scoring record held by UT Martin Hall of Famer Ki Tok Chu (221 points from 1986-89).