UT MARTIN KNOCKS OFF AUSTIN PEAY 45-31 IN HOMECOMING SHOOTOUT
October 8, 2016
YouTube: Postgame Press Conference
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football scored early in the contest and never looked back en route to a decisive 45-31 Homecoming victory against Ohio Valley Conference foe Austin Peay on Saturday afternoon.
The Skyhawks (3-3, 2-1 OVC) scored five of the game’s first six touchdowns while leading by as much as 35 early in the fourth quarter. Offensively the Skyhawks benefited from the team’s highest total offense output of the season, tabulating 568 yards of total offense including 380 yards through the air. A big target in the pass game was senior wide receiver Ben Axline who notched the most receiving yards in the program’s Division-I history with eight catches for 198 yards and a touchdown.
UT Martin saw positive performances from both quarterbacks who saw action beginning with junior starter Troy Cook who completed his first eight passes of the contest before finishing 17-of-21 with 253 yards and three touchdowns. Senior backup Gunnar Holcombe entered in the third quarter, completing 8-of-13 passes for 127 yards and a rushing touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball it was Kahlid Hagens who notched his second double-digit tackle performance of the season after leading the Skyhawks with 13. Fellow secondary-mate Justin Jackson also eclipsed the double-figure plateau with a career-high 11 tackles, including a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. As a team the Skyhawks tallied four sacks divided between Caleb Counce (1.0), Damani Taylor (1.0), Donald Cofield, Jr. (1.0), Jay Murphy (0.5) and Ervin Alston (0.5). The defensive duo of Taylor and Cofield, Jr. also tallied forced fumbles while Taylor and Garrett Wall notched recoveries for two forced turnovers.
“It was good to get a win and get back on the winning track while picking up our second win in the league,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “I love Homecoming, it’s a great atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be here on Saturday’s. There were a bunch of former players in that locker room today and I made sure to point them out to our current team so they knew who built that press box for you. Without their success and generating the interest, it might be hard to find those to make the commitment and take the next step of improving this place.”
Austin Peay (0-5, 0-4 OVC) was led by second-string quarterback Timar Mitchell who completed 17-of-23 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Kendall Morris notched 13 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Governors relied on top wide receiver Jared Beard who tallied eight catches for 106 yards while Kyran Moore caught seven for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
UT Martin would come out of the gates looking to make a statement. After forcing a three-and-out on the opening defensive drive of the game, the Skyhawks capitalized on prime field position on offense. Ladevin Fair would open the drive with a 17-yard rush up the middle before tallying a five-yard carry to move to the Austin Peay 29. Facing second-and-five, Cook would find Kyle Kerrick for a 29-yard touchdown to take an early advantage.
After a flea-flicker attempt resulted in a turnover for the Skyhawks, the team got the ball right back with a big defensive stand inside the redzone. With Austin Peay on the Skyhawk 17, Cofield, Jr. would sprint across the line to find a sack while forcing a fumble with Damani Taylor would jump on for a recovery. Following the big defensive stop, the Skyhawks would look for a big play and find it. On the first play of the drive, Cook would find Axline down the right sideline for a one-handed catch before breaking a tackle and scampering 71 yards for a touchdown to put the Skyhawks on top 14-0.
Austin Peay would respond to the big play by stringing together a 13-play, 75-yard drive to find the endzone. Tommy Hays would look to the air for a pair of completions totaling 28 yards before moving across midfield following a 15-yard completion from Hays to Moore. With a fresh set of down, the Governors would continue a methodical drive, totaling seven plays before a four-yard rush by Hays would result in a touchdown to trim the deficit in half.
Leading 14-7 after the first quarter of play, UT Martin would look to increase its margin on the opening play of the second quarter. The Skyhawks would start their drive on the 25 after Londell Lee returned a punt 25 yards. With a short field to work with, Cook would find Axline once again to set up first-and-goal from the nine. The Skyhawks would then cap off the scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown by Jaimiee Bowe to push the margin back out to two scores.
Looking for a methodical drive of its own, UT Martin would string together a 12-play, 88-yard scoring drive that ate up much of the clock in the second quarter, totaling just under six minutes of play. Three consecutive rushes would start the drive before Cook would find Caylon Weathers for a 33-yard completion and a first down. The ground attack of Fair and Bowe would highlight the drive before a four-yard pass from Cook to Greg McKillion would result in a touchdown.
Another defensive stop would set up a key scoring play. With Austin Peay on its own 26, Taylor would force a fumble that Garrett Wall would wrap up the loose ball for a recovery. Benefiting from a short-field, the Skyhawks would turn to Mitch Mersman who would knock in a 37-yard field goal for a new career long to make it a 31-7 contest at the half.
The Governors would snap the Skyhawks’ scoring streak midway through the third quarter. With a new quarterback under center, Mitchell would find Beard for a 37-yard reception to reach midfield. The Govs would switch back to Hays to man the ground attack, tallying rushes for eight and 15 yards to move the team down the field and into the redzone. Despite moving as close as the Skyhawk eight, the Governors would have to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Nick Gauna to make the score 31-10.
UT Martin would get back on the scoreboard in the final minutes of the third. With backup quarterback Holcombe entering the contest, the gunslinger would find Axline for a 52-yard reception to move just outside of the redzone. Another big pass from Holcombe to McKillion of 19-yard would put the Skyhawks on the doorsteps of the endzone. With the ball on the two, Holcombe would keep the ball himself and punch it in for his first rushing touchdown of the season.
The Skyhawks would keep their foot on the gas to open the fourth quarter. A big 15-yard completion from Holcombe to Jaylon Moore would put the Skyhawks just outside of the redzone. With a first down, Najee Ray would notch a three-yard carry before breaking loose through a crowd for a 19-yard carry into the endzone, giving the Skyhawks a 45-10 lead with 13:54 to play in the contest.
With the game getting out of reach, Austin Peay would try to cut into the team’s 35-point deficit in the final quarter. Faced with a big field, the Governors would cap off an 11-drive play with a 33-yard rush up the gut by Kendal Morris for a touchdown. The Governors would stay on the offensive with another score following a 10-yard completion from Mitchell to Moore to make it a 14-point margin with 3:16 on the clock.
The Governors would put the final touches on the contest in the final minutes. Mitchell would complete four consecutive passes including a 23-yard pass to Josh Alexander before finding Moore for their second touchdown connection to make it a 45-31 final score.
UT Martin will hit the road next week with a short trek to OVC rival Murray State. Kickoff from Stewart Stadium is scheduled for 6 p.m.