MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team scored less than five minutes into tonight’s game against No. 7 Central Arkansas and never trailed the rest of the way, turning away the Bears in the 2013 home opener at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
The victory was the second over a Football Championship Subdivision ranked opponent in three games this season. UT Martin also downed No. 24 Chattanooga in a 31-21 victory in the season opener on Aug. 29.
UT Martin (2-1) led by as many as 14 points at the halftime break and led by 10 points with less than six minutes left to play. After Central Arkansas (1-2) cut the deficit to one point with 35 seconds left, the Bears had a 42-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds left but J’Vontez Blackmon charged through and blocked the kick, clinching the victory for the Skyhawks.
Junior Dylan Favre got the starting nod at quarterback, completing 14-of-19 passes (73.7 percent) for 146 yards and three touchdowns. The Kiln, Miss. native also added 78 yards rushing for UT Martin.
On the ground, DJ McNeil tallied 21 attempts for 78 yards while adding a 31-yard touchdown reception. Jeremy Butler hauled in six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown while Dylan Davis also was responsible for a touchdown tonight for the Skyhawks.
Ben Johnson collected a game-high 12 tackles tonight, while Bobby Ellis also was in on 10 tackles. Leon Carlton III also had a big interception late in the fourth quarter to halt a Central Arkansas drive in the red zone.
“Obviously we are excited about the win,” UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson said. “At this point, most people would have probably told you that with the schedule we’ve had, we would be 0-3. Tonight was not a perfect game by far but those guys in our locker room fight. We aren’t the prettiest team or the biggest team but we’re scrappy and that was the difference in the game.”
Central Arkansas' Wynrick Smothers threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice by UT Martin. Damien Watts accounted for nine receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown while Chase Dixon (receiving) and Willie Matthews (rushing) also were responsible for touchdowns.
The Skyhawks received the ball first and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Favre had rushes of 21 and 14 yards on the drive before finding Davis for a five-yard sliding touchdown catch at the 10:53 mark.
The UT Martin defense made a statement early, forcing a turnover on downs on Central Arkansas’ first possession. The Skyhawks forced the Bears to punt on their second drive and held Central Arkansas scoreless on the third drive after a 42-yard missed field goal attempt.
The Skyhawks immediately responded with another touchdown to go ahead by two scores. Favre hit McNeil along the left sideline for 31 yards and after a Jackson Redditt PAT, UT Martin led 14-0 with 5:48 to play before the halftime break.
UT Martin forced yet another punt on Central Arkansas’ next possession, resulting in a 14-0 Skyhawk lead at the half. It marked the second time that the Skyhawks had carried a shutout into the second half against a FCS ranked opponent.
Central Arkansas received the ball first in the second half and scored a touchdown on its fourth play from scrimmage to make the score 14-7.
Blackmon then stepped up big for UT Martin, securing an interception on Central Arkansas’ next drive. Blackmon intercepted the ball at the UT Martin 40-yard line and took it back 37 yards to get the Skyhawks in good field position. It was Blackmon’s second pick of the season and fourth career interception in less than two seasons at UT Martin.
The Skyhawk defense once again flexed their muscle on the Bears’ next drive, limiting Central Arkansas to just two yards before forcing a three-and-out.
Long rushes by McNeil (17 yards) and Najee Ray (23 yards) helped UT Martin put three more points on the scoreboard on the Skyhawks’ next possession, as Redditt booted a 22-yard field goal to make the score 17-7 with 3:31 to go in the third quarter.
UT Martin would then force yet another turnover on downs, as Ryan Isom and Thad Williams stuffed Central Arkansas’ Willie Matthews on a fourth-and-one play to open the fourth quarter.
The Skyhawks once again held Central Arkansas on its next possession but an unlucky fumble off a punt gave the Bears the ball on the UT Martin 12-yard line. Central Arkansas scored on its next play to get within three points at 17-14.
Favre and Butler would extend UT Martin’s lead back out to double-digits on the next offensive drive. After connecting for completions of 12 and 16 yards early in the drive, Favre hooked up with Butler for a 24-yard touchdown strike off a slant pass down the middle to give the Skyhawks the 24-14 advantage with 6:53 remaining.
The Bears then scored a touchdown just 1:20 later and after a Skyhawk punt, Central Arkansas pieced together an eight-play drive before Carlton came up with a big interception at the UT Martin 8-yard line.
Trying to run out as much clock as they could, the Skyhawks attempted three rushing plays before punting with 29 seconds left. On the punt, UT Martin’s James Satterfield intentionally ran out of bounds for a planned safety to make the score 24-23.
After Satterfield’s free kick gave Central Arkansas the ball on the Bear’s 39-yard line, the Bears had a chance to win the game with a 42-yard field goal attempt. However, Blackmon would not allow that to happen, capping off an outstanding effort with the block to ice the game.
UT Martin has a bye week before opening Ohio Valley Conference play at Southeast Missouri on Sept. 28. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.