UT MARTIN WINS SIXTH STRAIGHT AGAINST OVC RIVAL MURRAY STATE 38-31
October 15, 2016
YouTube: Postgame Press Conference
MURRAY, Ky. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team notched its sixth consecutive victory over Ohio Valley Conference rival Murray State on Saturday evening behind a 38-31 decision. The win also notched the 10th win against the Racers since 2006.
The Skyhawks (4-3, 3-1 OVC) entered the game with the league’s most potent scoring offense averaging 41.0 points per game and nearly met that mark with their 38-point output. In an oddity of sorts, tonight’s victory marked the 15th consecutive game in the series that the winning team scored 38 points or more while the 30 points allowed by the Skyhawk defense was the least allowed in the series dating back to the 2013 season.
UT Martin totaled 446 yards of total offense while registering 22 first downs. The Skyhawks scored in each phase of the game, notching three passing touchdowns, three field goals and an interception return.
Troy Cook - the nation’s top quarterback in passing efficiency - highlighted the offensive side of the ball by completing 21-of-38 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Cook found three different targets for touchdowns in Ben Axline (six catches, 64 yards), Londell Lee (four catches, 68 yards) and Greg McKillion (three catches, 92 yards).
Joining in the action was specialist Mitch Mersman who made a name for himself by hitting 3-of-4 field goal attempts, including a career long of 39 yards in the victory. Mersman completed the evening by booting field goals from 37, 39 and 37 yards respectively.
On the defensive side of the ball it was James Gilleylen who paced the team with 10 tackles while Joseph Este notched eight of his own. Sophomore Kevin Prather, Jr. tallied seven tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack along with both a forcing and recovering a fumble. Tae Martin provided arguably the biggest play on the defensive side, returning his second interception for a touchdown of the season for 36 yards.
“It’s hard to win games in the OVC on the road, I have said it all week long,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “We knew coming into this, with all of those zone pressures and playmakers on offense that it would be a tough game. It was good to see us score on defense and be able to run the ball to let the clock run out and take a knee in the victory formation. This is a good group of guys. They are playing hard and trying to scrape out some wins.”
Murray State (1-5, 1-2 OVC) battled throughout the contest, overcoming a pair of deficits before ultimately dropping its fifth game of the season. The Racers were led by the play of quarterback K.D. Humphries who completed 23-of-44 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Humphries found his main target Jordan Gandy eight times for 118 yards and a touchdown while connecting with Jess Blackburn and Jonathan Moss for scores. Running back Mareio McGraw led the ground attack with 10 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown.
For the sixth time in the season’s seven games, UT Martin jumped out to an early advantage in the contest by scoring first. While the Skyhawks would get on the scoreboard on the opening drive, it nearly stalled on the first set of downs before Cook found Lee for a 47-yard completion on third and long. With the ball moved to the Racer 25, the Skyhawks would eventually reach the redzone before settling for a 37-yard field goal by Mersman to give the visitors a 3-0 advantage.
Both offenses would struggle after the initial scoring drive until Murray State capitalized on a defensive stop. A forced fumble and recovery by the Racers would start their drive with first and goal. Needing just six yards to reach the endzone, the Racers would draw a pass interference penalty before Humphries found main target Gandy for a two-yard touchdown to take a 7-3 lead.
After giving up the early touchdown, UT Martin would string together 17-unanswered points to cap off the first quarter. The first touchdown would be a result of a 12-play, 66-yard drive which saw Cook find Caylon Weathers for a one-handed 23-yard reception to give the Skyhawks first and goal. With the ball inside the five-yard line, Cook would look to the air again for a four-yard touchdown completion to Axline to make it a two-possession contest. The touchdown reception marked the third consecutive game with a score for Axline.
With an offensive touchdown in the books, UT Martin then looked to its defense to leave a mark. With Murray State on its own 29, Humphries would be picked off by Martin who returned the interception 36 yards for a touchdown. The interception marked the third interception returned for a touchdown for the Skyhawks this season and the second for Martin.
UT Martin would use its defense to set up another scoring drive after Prather, Jr. forced and recovered a fumble on a strip sack to give the Skyhawks the ball in Racer territory. With the ball just outside of the redzone, the Skyhawks would turn to Mersman once again who would tally a new career-high by booting a 39-yard field goal to give the visitors a 20-7 lead.
Murray State would take control in the second quarter, scoring 14-unanswered points to retake a narrow lead midway through the period. The Racers would cut into the margin with a big 65-yard carry for a touchdown by McGraw to trim the deficit to single-digits. Another big play on the ensuing drive following a fumble recovery would result in a 23-yard touchdown from Humphries to Moss to take a 21-20 lead with six minutes left in the half.
Looking to close out the half strong, UT Martin would find the endzone in the final minutes to take a 27-21 lead into the break. Cook would orchestrate an 86-yard drive on just seven plays by finding Axline for 13 yards before switching the field and locating Kyle Kerrick for a 35-yard completion to cross midfield. Jaimiee Bowe would break loose for a 14-yard carry before Cook looked to the air to find Lee for an 11-yard touchdown before the half.
Neither team would score in the third quarter but the Skyhawks would do much of the heavy lifting on an eventual scoring drive in the final minutes of the period. UT Martin would notch 57 yards on 12 plays on the field drive of the third which included a 14-yard completion to set up a field goal attempt to open the fourth. With the wind in his face, Mersman would open the fourth quarter by knocking a 37-yard field goal to take a 30-21 advantage.
Facing a nine-point deficit in the final quarter, Murray State would begin its comeback attempt. The Racers would tally three big first downs before Humphries looked to the air once again to find Blackburn for a 23-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to two points. Looking to complete the comeback attempt, the Racers would turn to Connor Mitchell who would boot a 50-yard field goal with 10 minutes to play to take a 31-30 lead of their own.
After giving up its second lead of the game, UT Martin looked to answer quickly. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Cook would find McKillion over the middle before scampering 75 yards for a touchdown. Along with retaking the lead, the Skyhawks would look to make it a seven-point advantage following a two-point conversion by Bowe up the middle to make it a 38-31 contest in what ultimately proved to be the game-winner.
UT Martin will return to action with its third Football Bowl Subdivision opponent of the season with a trip to Sun Belt foe Georgia State. Kickoff from the Georgia Dome is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.