COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team took a 28-3 lead into the halftime break and never looked back this evening, defeating Tennessee Tech 28-17 in Ohio Valley Conference action at Tucker Stadium.
One week after setting a new season-high with 493 yards of total offense, the Skyhawks (4-2, 2-1 OVC) piled up 483 yards tonight. Senior running back DJ McNeil gained a career-high 168 rushing yards on 24 carries to go along with a touchdown – the 17th rushing score of his career. Abou Toure also added a touchdown on the ground for UT Martin.
Redshirt sophomore Jarod Neal earned his second start of the season this evening, completing 21-of-29 passes (72.4 percent) for a career-high 270 yards and a touchdown. Neal also added a rushing touchdown for the second consecutive week, giving the Skyhawks a first-quarter lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Jeremy Butler led the UT Martin receivers with four receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. Chris Thompson added three catches for 68 yards for the Skyhawks.
Defensively, UT Martin held the Golden Eagles to 322 yards of total offense. The Skyhawks tied or set season-highs in tackles-for-loss (nine), sacks (five), forced fumbles (three) and interceptions (two).
Tony Bell made a season-high 10 tackles for the Skyhawks, adding a pair of sacks. Camaren Harris made nine stops (all solo), had an interception and accounted for all three of UT Martin’s pass breakups. J’vontez Blackmon (forced fumble, fumble recovery) and Ben Johnson (2.5 tackles for loss) also made eight tackles apiece to lead UT Martin.
Tennessee Tech was led by Cody Matthews’ seven receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. Jared Davis threw for two touchdowns and 139 yards while Marty Jones made 14 tackles to lead the Golden Eagles defensively.
“I was proud of our kids to go on the road for our third game in 12 days to get a win and stay in the conference race,” Skyhawk head coach Jason Simpson said. “In the first half, we couldn’t have drawn it up any better. In the second half we got a little tight and got ahead of ourselves a little bit but we will take 4-2 and 2-1 in the conference. I thought Jarod Neal played outstanding at quarterback – he is learning under fire and I was real proud of him to get the win.”
UT Martin’s defense stood its ground on the first Tennessee Tech drive of the game, forcing a Golden Eagle punt.
After the Skyhawks gained 10 yards on their first three plays, Neal hit Butler for a 43-yard strike down the right sideline to move UT Martin into Tennessee Tech territory. After an 11-yard pass from Neal to Corey Jordan moved the Skyhawks down to the 1-yard line, Neal rose above the crowd for a touchdown off a quarterback sneak. A Jackson Redditt PAT capped off a 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive that took 4:05.
The Golden Eagles came back with a 39-yard field goal on their next possession to make the score 7-3 at the 5:48 mark of the first quarter.
After a UT Martin turnover gave Tennessee Tech the ball on the Skyhawk 25-yard line, the Skyhawk defense pushed the Golden Eagles back five yards and came away with a clean sheet, as Tennessee Tech missed a 31-yard field goal attempt from the left hashmark to keep the score at 7-3.
The Skyhawks came right back with a touchdown on their next possession. Two plays after he extended the drive with a fourth-and-one rush up the middle, McNeil rushed for 32 yards to find paydirt and give UT Martin a 14-3 advantage with 14:07 to go in the second quarter. That play finished off a 10-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 2:58.
UT Martin’s defense then came up with a big play that led to seven more Skyhawk points. On second-and-12 from the Tennessee Tech 34-yard line, Bobby Ellis came up with a tackle and strip fumble that Taino Fears-Perez fell on to give UT Martin prime field position at the 31-yard line.
Four plays later, Neal found Butler for a 13-yard touchdown strike at the 10:51 mark of the second quarter to put the Skyhawks ahead 21-3.
Tennessee Tech took the ball into Skyhawk territory on its next drive until a huge sack by Thad Williams for a loss of 12 yards on third-and-three.
That led UT Martin on an impressive 11-play, 96-yard drive that elapsed 6:02 off the clock. Six of the Skyhawks’ plays on that drive went for 10 or more yards, as UT Martin scored on a one-yard rush by Toure with 51 seconds to play before the halftime break.
At the half, the Skyhawks held a 28-3 advantage and had more than doubled Tennessee Tech in total offense (315 yards to 138).
Despite Blackmon forcing and recovering a fumble on Tennessee Tech’s first offensive possession of the second half, the Golden Eagles got on the scoreboard first in the third quarter. Tennessee Tech converted a 29-yard touchdown pass at the 9:52 mark to make the score 28-10.
After UT Martin was forced to punt for just the second time in the game, Tennessee Tech scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a five-yard pass to pull the Golden Eagles within 11 points at 28-17.
McNeil ripped off a 42-yard run on the Skyhawks’ first play from scrimmage after the touchdown, but a Golden Eagle sack took UT Martin out of field goal range and forced another punt.
The Skyhawks forced a punt on Tennessee Tech’s next drive and received the ball on their own 39-yard line. After three straight rushes by Toure netted 14 yards, Neal found Thompson for a well-timed 41-yard reception down the left side to put the Skyhawks all the way down to the Tennessee Tech six-yard line. However, UT Martin would fumble out of the endzone two plays later for a touchback.
The two teams would swap punts until the Skyhawk defense came up with yet another takeaway. After taking over on his own 43-yard line, Tennessee Tech quarterback Jared Davis was picked off by UT Martin cornerback Harris at the 4:09 mark. Harris returned the interception 36 yards to start the Skyhawk drive in Tennessee Tech territory.
The Skyhawks then elected to eat some clock, calling four straight rushing plays that lasted a total of 2:06.
UT Martin then iced the victory with an interception by Marquis Clemons on fourth-and-four from the Tennessee Tech 41-yard line.
The Skyhawks return home next week to take on in-state OVC rival Tennessee State on Saturday, Oct. 19. Kickoff from Hardy Graham Stadium is slated for 1 p.m.