September 11, 2016

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Boxscore            PDF                   (Photo Courtesy of Courtney Metzger)

HONOLULU, Hawai’i – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team went toe-to-toe with a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for the second consecutive week, holding several leads in the contest and in the final quarter of play. Despite the team’s resilience, the Skyhawks fell just short against Mountain West foe Hawai’i on Saturday evening, 41-36.

The Skyhawks (0-2) battled throughout the contest, scoring first against their FBS opponent for the second consecutive week and for the fifth time in school history. While the defense forced three turnovers once again while the offense found its rhythm, the Skyhawks final possession on both sides of the ball determined the final outcome.  

After jumping out to an early lead which reached as high as 10 points early in the third quarter, UT Martin allowed 21 unanswered points to the Rainbow Warriors, flipping the momentum onto the side of the home squad. Resilient in their approach, the Skyhawks battled back in the contest, scoring back-to-back touchdowns to take a slim lead midway through the fourth quarter. Needing a stop, UT Martin would allow the eventual game-winning touchdown to score while watching the team’s final opportunity end with an interception with just over a minute to play.  

As a team the Skyhawks won nearly every statistical category. The team produced 22 first downs while tallying 214 yards on the ground and 204 yards through the air to combined for 418 yards of total offense. The team’s 214 yards on the ground marked the first time that UT Martin had rushed for at least 200 yards on a FBS opponent since the Skyhawks ran for 269 yards at Mississippi State on Nov. 5, 2011.

Leading the Skyhawk rushing attack was sophomore running back Jaimiee Bowe who notched his second straight 100-yard rushing performance. Bowe tallied 18 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Senior tailback Ladevin Fair also joined in the action, tallying 12 carries for 81 yards while also notching 41 yards receiving.

Thrust into action following an injury in the season opener, junior quarterback Troy Cook made the most of his first career start by posting several personal-best marks. Cook completed 12-of-26 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns. Cook connected with senior receiver Ben Axline three times for 104 yards and one touchdown – including a 65-yard completion in the fourth quarter.

Senior safety Tae Martin and sophomore linebacker Kevin Prather, Jr. paced the team with six tackles each while freshman James Gilleylen tallied the team’s lone sack of the evening. The trio of Kahlid Hagens, Chris Williams-Hall and Sheldon Dawson each posted an interception in the contest.

“I tip my hat to our guys, they battled all game and showed that they belonged on that field,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “We didn’t make any excuses that we were playing with a backup quarterback and that our best defensive player couldn’t play in the first half. We had leads but didn’t hold them, turned the ball over, gave up big third and longs but we have to coach better. Our defense is making big plays, forcing six in two weeks, we just have to clean some things up on both sides of the ball.”

Hawai’i (1-2) picked up its first win of the season in its home opener. The Rainbow Warriors were led offensively by the play of quarterback Ikaika Woolsey who completed 9-of-18 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns despite his three interceptions. Woolsey’s main target was Marcus Kemp who he connected with three times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. Diocemy Saint Juste also posted a strong performance with 16 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Rainbow Warriors were led by Jalen Rogers who tallied seven tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception.

Much like the week before, UT Martin wasted little time looking to prove its worth against its FBS opponent. After beginning the team’s opening drive on its own 24-yard line, the Skyhawks would march down the field by stringing together a 10-play, 64-yard drive. Bowe would be explosive, ripping rushes of 14, 11 and 20 yards to push the ball into striking distance. The strong opening possession would set up a 27-yard field goal attempt by Mitch Mersman who converted his first career field goal to give the Skyhawks an early 3-0 lead.

Hawai’i would respond on the following possession, stringing together an 11-play, 81-yard drive to take its first lead of the contest. Looking to move the ball through the air, Woolsey would tally three first downs on the drive, completing passes of 10, 16 and 37 yards to set up first and goal. He would complete the scoring opportunity with a seven-yard completion to Kemp, giving the home squad a 7-3 advantage.

The Skyhawks next drive would stall before the defense gave the squad new life. Following a three-and-out for the Skyhawks, the defense proved dynamic as Dawson intercepted Woolsey before returning the ball 22 yards into Hawai’i territory. With a new life, the Skyhawks would turn to the air with a 29-yard completion from Cook to Fair before finding Kyle Kerrick for a 12-yard touchdown. The touchdown served as the first of the season for both players while giving the Skyhawks a 10-7 lead heading into the second quarter.

UT Martin would stay on the offensive on the following possession. Taking over on the team’s own 15, the Skyhawks turned to Fair who ripped a 46-yard carry down the right sideline to flip the field and move the guests into enemy territory. Faced with a fourth and short, Bowe would continue the drive with another first down. With the ball inside the redzone, Cook would look to the air to find CJ McElrath for a wide open 16-yard touchdown into the left corner of the endzone – giving the Skyhawks a 17-7 advantage.

A costly fumble by the Skyhawks would give the Rainbow Warriors prime field position to start its next scoring drive. Taking over on the UTM 19, a pair of rushes by Steven Lakalaka would be punctuated by a 15-yard touchdown run to trim the margin to 17-14.

After taking a lead into halftime against a FBS opponent for the second straight week, UT Martin would look to pad its advantage on the team’s first drive of the second half. Three consecutive carries would result in a first down before seeing the drive seemingly stall. Faced with fourth and two, Bowe would rip off a 26-yard touchdown up the middle to pad the team’s lead to 24-14.

Hawai’i would mount its comeback attempt in the third quarter and into the fourth, scoring 21 unanswered points. A muffed punt return resulted in the Rainbow Warriors starting their next possession on the Skyhawk 25. Following a short rush, Saint Juste broke loose over the right side for a 24-yard touchdown to trim the margin to single digits. Another three-and-out for the Skyhawks would result in another scoring chance for the home squad. In Skyhawk territory, Hawai’i would go through the air for a 33-yard completion from Woolsey to Kemp for their second connection of the night, giving the Rainbow Warriors a 28-24 lead.

The Rainbow Warriors would stay on a roll to open the fourth quarter, stringing together an eight-play, 80-yard drive to extent the margin. Hawai’i would rush the ball six times on to start the drive, moving into Skyhawk territory before Woolsey found Metuisela Unga for a 36-yard touchdown over the middle. With the big 21 points swing, the hosts erased a 10-point deficit and held an 11-point advantage.

Needing a spark of the offense, UT Martin found just what it was looking for early in the fourth. With the ball on the 35-yard line, Cook connected with Axline over the middle for a 65-yard strike to make it a 35-30 contest following a failed two-point conversion attempt.

Still trailing by five in the fourth, the Skyhawks looked to their special teams’ unit to get the squad back on top. After not returning a punt for a touchdown since the 2011 season, newcomer Londell Lee snapped that drought with a 79-yard return down the Skyhawk sideline and into the endzone to give the guests a narrow 36-35 lead.

Trailing once again, Hawai’i made a push to quickly regain the lead and slow the Skyhawks momentum. The Rainbow Warriors would convert on a long third down situation following a 14-yard quarterback scramble by Woolsey to move towards midfield and keep the drive going. With a fresh set of downs, Woolsey would rely on his strong arm by connecting with Kemp down the sideline for their second touchdown of the night, this time of the 63-yard variety which proved to be the game-winning score of 41-36.

UT Martin would string together one final push on its last drive of the game. Pinned on their own 11, the Skyhawks converted on a third and 16 with a 16-yard completion from Cook to Caylon Weathers extending the drive. The squad would continue down the field before the duo of Cook and Weathers found each other once again, this time for a six-yard completion on fourth and four. Despite having new life, back to back sacks would later lead to an interception on fourth and 29 to seal the game’s fate.

The Skyhawks will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 17 when they make their home debut in newly renovated Hardy M. Graham Stadium against NAIA foe Bacone College. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. with the grand opening ceremony for the facility scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

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