MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team fell behind early and could not catch up as the No. 2 Eastern Illinois Panthers claimed a 70-22 win on Senior Day at Hardy Graham Stadium.
The Skyhawks conclude their season with a 7-5 record and 5-3 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference. It marks the third winning season in the last four years and fifth in eight seasons overall for UT Martin under head coach Jason Simpson.
Fittingly, three different Skyhawk seniors accounted for the team’s three touchdowns this afternoon. Jeremy Butler (six catches, 91 yards) ended his stellar two-year career with his 20th touchdown reception, which ranks second all-time in UT Martin history. Chris Thompson eclipsed the 1,000 career yard receiving mark this afternoon, hauling in a 28-yard score in the third quarter. Dylan Davis also accounted for a touchdown today, as he was on the receiving end of a 45-yard pass – the longest completion for the Skyhawks on the day.
Jarod Neal threw for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns for UT Martin. Dylan Favre got the starting nod, completing 77 percent of his passes (10-for-13) for 98 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, DJ McNeil (2,031 career rushing yards) wrapped up his remarkable career with a team-best 39 rushing yards. His 1,092 rushing yards this season ranks fourth in UT Martin single-season history while he also became the eighth player in program history to surpass the 2,000 rushing yard mark.
Defensively, four seniors were responsible for the top four tackle totals in the game. DJ Roberts racked up a career-high 12 tackles for the Skyhawks, while Ben Johnson added 11 stops to end his career with 331 tackles to rank seventh all-time in program history. Bobby Ellis also tied a career-high with 10 tackles while Kevin Barfield added eight tackles and five pass breakups. Junior Taino Fears-Perez also recorded his second career interception for the Skyhawks today.
For Eastern Illinois (11-1, 8-0 OVC), Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 477 yards and six touchdowns while Adam Drake (14 catches, 225 yards) and Jeff LePak (seven catches, 196 yards) each caught three touchdown passes. Shepard Little rushed for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Panthers, who secured the OVC regular season championship last week.
The Skyhawks were going against the high wind conditions in the first quarter, leading to good field position for Eastern Illinois. The Panthers would score a touchdown on their first offensive possession but the UT Martin defense held on Eastern Illinois’ next drive, forcing a missed field goal from 30 yards out.
Eastern Illinois would score on touchdown passes on each of its next three possessions before the Skyhawks held the Panthers to another missed field goal.
UT Martin then marched the ball down the field for its first scoring drive of the afternoon, piling up 11 plays for 77 yards in 4:07. Neal found Butler for a 28-yard touchdown strike along the right sideline to get the Skyhawks on the scoreboard with 13:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The Panthers answered with a rushing touchdown on their next possession but UT Martin’s Nick Brown leapt up to block the PAT, making the score 34-7.
After a 66-yard punt by James Satterfield, the Skyhawk defense held Eastern Illinois to a three-and-out and tacked on two more points when the Panther snap sailed over the punter’s head for a safety to make the score 34-9 at the 8:26 mark.
Eastern Illinois closed out the half with 13 straight points to take a 47-9 advantage into the break.
The Panthers would score on their first drive in the second half but the Skyhawks answered right back with a touchdown. Neal was 4-for-5 on the scoring drive, including a 28-yard pass to Thompson to cap off the seven-play, 66-yard drive that lasted 2:55.
UT Martin would hold Eastern Illinois on a fourth down attempt on the Panthers’ next possession but Eastern Illinois came back to score on its next drive.
Favre then helped lead the Skyhawks back into the endzone on their next possession. He guided UT Martin on a five-play, 75-yard drive over a stretch of 1:55, concluding with a 45-yard pass to Davis at the 4:15 mark.
Eastern Illinois then ended the game with a field goal late in the third quarter and a touchdown on a quarterback sneak midway through the fourth quarter.