October 7, 2017

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Postgame Press Conference


MARTIN, Tenn. – A 32-yard field goal as time expired would punctuate a heartbreaking Homecoming loss for the No. 25 ranked University of Tennessee at Martin football team, falling 13-10 to Ohio Valley Conference regional rival Murray State on Saturday afternoon.The Skyhawks (3-3, 1-2 OVC) dropped their second consecutive OVC contest by the slimmest of margins as a field goal proved to be the team’s demise. Struggling to find its offensive mojo, UT Martin has failed to score an offensive touchdown in nine consecutive quarters dating back to the team’s victory over Tennessee State on Sept. 23. 

“First of all, congratulations to Murray State,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “They did what they needed to do to get the win here on the road. Our defense deserved a better outcome than that. The defensive players played outstanding and we scored on defense but we only won one of the three phases. We didn’t win on special teams – we missed two kicks. And we certainly didn’t win on offense. We will have to make some changes on Monday offensively – that’s not fair on the defense. We are pretty disappointed but it’s collective. All of us on offense – me included – have to take a part of this. I hate it for our defense – if you give up 13 points and you score, you have to win the game.”

The struggles crept its way into nearly every facet of the game. The Skyhawks were limited to just 229 yards of total offense and three turnovers while the specialists missed a pair of key field goal attempts from 33 and 36 yards away while notching a made attempt from 29 yards.

Quarterback Troy Cook was limited on the day despite an efficient passing day which saw him complete 16-of-23 pass attempts for 125 yards while throwing one interception. Running backs Marquez Grayson and Ladarius Galloway combined for 21 rushing attempts for 98 yards while being held outside of the endzone.

Defensively the Skyhawks held their own as the nation’s third ranked rushing defense limiting the Racers to just 17 rushing yards and 267 yards of total offense while forcing three turnovers. Junior linebacker James Gilleylen played a crucial role in a strong defensive performance, notching a game-high 12 tackles on the afternoon while recording both a forced fumble and a recovery. Joining in the action with big plays was senior safety Kahlid Hagens who recorded five tackles along with an interception, two pass breakups and a forced fumble while scoring the team’s lone touchdown with a 67-yard punt return.

Neither team would find much continuity until the second quarter when the scoreless tie finally met its end. Murray State would get on the board first on its opening drive of the second quarter after starting with prime field position on the UTM 28 following a strong punt return and facemask penalty. While the Skyhawk defense would flex its muscles to limit the drive, a 22-yard field goal by Gabriel Vicente put the Racers on top.

Trailing for the first time in the contest, UT Martin looked to charge back on its following drive. Three big pass completions to Rodney Williams (18 yards), Londell Lee (23 yards) and Brett Thompson (13 yards) would highlight a 14-play, 68-yard drive which would result in a 29-yard field goal by Mitch Mersman to knot the game at three points each.

Neither team would score again until early in the fourth quarter. After a strong defensive stand by the Skyhawks forced a punt, a 17-yard punt by the Racers would be recovered by Hagens who juked and changed directions on his 67-yard trek to the endzone to give UT Martin a 10-3 advantage with 11:17 to play.

With time winding down, Murray State rumbled down the field looking to tie the contest. Big pass completions from Shuler Bentley to Jensen Feggins would move the Racers into enemy territory. Facing second and long, Bentley would then find Austin Thomas for a 48-yard completion before a fumble at the five result in a Racer touchdown as DeQuan Dallas recovered the loose ball in the endzone to tie the game up.

A critical fumble would give Murray State back the ball on the UTM 31 with just over four minutes to play. A handful of rushing plays would milk the clock for the Racers, setting up a 32-yard field goal attempt by Vicente which he sailed through the uprights as time expired to notch the game-winner.

“Things just aren’t going right right now,” said Simpson. “We have to right the ship sitting here at 3-3. That’s two winnable games we have let get away from us. Like I told the team downstairs – understand that this is your team but this is my program. We’re going to act a certain way, we’re going to play a certain way, we’re going to take to coaching a certain way. And if you don’t, we’ll make a youth movement around here and play young guys. A lot of it is frustration too. The defensive guys are frustrated but there will be some things that will have to be addressed on Monday.”

UT Martin will shift its focus to its bye week before returning to action on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Eastern Kentucky.

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