Defense dominates, Tech claims York Trophy with 20-13 Homecoming win

Defense dominates, Tech claims York Trophy with 20-13 Homecoming win

Scroll to the bottom to view photos from Saturday's Homecoming game

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore Tim Benford caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Lee Sweeney with three minutes to play and the Tennessee Tech defense, led by redshirt freshman Caleb Mitchell, forced four turnovers as the Golden Eagles defeated Tennessee State, 20-13, in an Ohio Valley Conference game Saturday afternoon in Tucker Stadium.

With the win, Tech (5-3/4-2 OVC) captured the league’s Sgt. York Trophy, finishing the series with a 3-0 mark against the three in-state schools.

"We just hung in there and hung in there, and at the end we made plays and that is what this team has been doing," said Golden Eagle head coach Watson Brown. "Every one we've won, we had to make plays in the fourth quarter to win the game, and this one was no different.

"I couldn't be more proud of these kids. They've worked their fannies off and they've come a long way," Brown added. "One of the goals is done (York Trophy). We get to bring that trophy back to Cookeville."

Mitchell finished the game with 13 total tackles, including 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two quarterback sacks, and an interception. He also broke up two passes, caused a fumble and recovered fumble.

"The fact that it was Homecoming and I studied a lot more film this week," is how Mitchell explained his success against the Tigers. "The crowd makes a big difference too. There were a lot of people here today and that makes us want to play even harder.

"It was just the defense being in the right position." Mitchell said. "We weren't really looking for a big play, it was just being in the right position and the ball comes to you."

Tennessee State (3-5/2-2 OVC) had an 89-yard interception return by Sidney Tarver in the first quarter for its first touchdown after the Golden Eagles had built a 13-0 lead. The Tigers marched 91 yards midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game at 13-13, with Calvin McNairl rambling the final 12 yards for the score with 7:56 remaining.

Tech broke the tie four minutes later when Benford beat double coverage in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was the second time in the game that Tech struck quickly, scoring twice on 28-yard passes from Sweeney on the first play of a possession.

"It's just a solid win," Brown said. "If we miss on any one of those pieces I don't think we win. The kicking game was solid, they were penalized more than us, we had fewer turnovers than they had, and the offense and defensive pieces worked exactly like we thought it would have to.

"It's a big win for this program and a big win for this team. We haven't been a dominant offense all year, and then when you go and play a dominant defense you've really got to find a way to get your points. Somebody on this offense seems to find a way to make big plays at the right times, and that's exactly what happened today," he said. I

n the first quarter, Colin Allen nabbed a pass in the other corner of the end zone to give the Golden Eagles a 13-0 lead.

Defense dominated the first quarter, leading to the first three scores of the contest.

On the opening possession of the game, Mitchell sacked quarterback Dominic Grooms at the TSU 36, knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble at the 24. Five plays later Dontey Gay raced the final three yards for a 6-0 Tech lead following a missed PAT kick.

Mitchell intercepted a pass by Grooms at the TSU 43 and returned it to the 28 with 5:49 remaining in the first period, and one play later Allen grabbed Sweeney’s pass to make it 13-0.

Justin Vann blocked a TSU punt and the Golden Eagles were driving late in the first quarter when Tarver picked off Sweeney’s pass of the middle at the TSU 11 and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to make it 13-6. The Tigers attempted a two-point PAT and Taylor Cisneros was tripped up at the one.

Sweeney finished the game 12-for-23 for 188 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He moved to third in the OVC in career completions, surpassing Tony Romo and Brady Wahlberg. Benford had five catches for 122 yards, his third career 100-yard game.

"That was a hit or miss to Tim, if he's not open I throw it out of bounds," Sweeney said of the game-winning connection. "That was all Tim Benford right there. I put it in a spot, he just went and got the ball and that was a great play by Tim."

Joseph Halls topped TSU with six receptions for 80 yards, while Preston Brown’s 54 yards on 13 carries topped the Tiger rushing game.

Tennessee State finished with 280 yards of offense, with 152 on the ground and 128 through the air. Tech had 260 in total offense, getting 77 on the ground and 188 through the air.

Joining Mitchell at the top of the tackle chart, Dustin Dillehay had 13 tackles and broke up a pass.

The Golden Eagles step outside the OVC next week to visit the University of Georgia at noon CST in Sanford Stadium.

Pregame Notes

* In the battle for the York Trophy, which is awarded to the Tennessee OVC school with the best record against the other Tennessee schools, Tennessee Tech is 2-0 after defeating both Austin Peay and UT Martin earlier this season. A win today against Tennessee State would guarantee Tech its first York Trophy in its three-year history.
* The Homecoming parade began at 10:30 this morning and just wrapped up around 11:45 at the Magic 98.5 Tailgate Park.
* It's an overcast day here at Tucker Stadium and looks like we might have some rain. The weather could definitely be a factor in today's game.
* Tech will be recognizing the five new inductees to the TTU Sports Hall of Fame at halftime . Also, wide receiver Tim Benford will receive the Robert Hill Johnson Award which he won last year prior to the kickoff of today's game.
* Tennessee State has won the toss and elected to receive. Tech will kickoff from and defend the south endzone.

1st Quarter Notes

* Caleb Mitchell made a huge play to start the game for the Golden Eagle defense. The freshman cornerback came on a blitz and got to TSU quarterback Dominique Grooms, forcing a fumble which he also recovered at the TSU 25 yard line.
* Dontey Gay picked up right were he left off from last week, scoring on a three yard touchdown run to put Tech ahead, 6-0. The extra point was missed wide right though -- hopefully that does not come back to haunt the Golden Eagles. The touchdown was the first given up by TSU in the first quarter since the Tigers' first game of the season. Tech leads, 6-0
* Both teams just exchanged three-and-outs. Neither team has tried to move the ball much through the air thus far.
* Mitchell has been on fire to start this game. He just intercepted a TSU pass to give Tech possession on the Tennessee State 28 yard line.
* Lee Sweeney needed just one play to give the Golden Eagles a two-score lead as he hooked up with Colin Allen on a 28-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the endzone to put Tech ahead, 13-0. Sweeney lofted a pass to the right sideline just over the head of the TSU defender, and Allen made a nice catch just before going out of bounds in the endzone. Both Tech touchdowns were set up by turnovers caused by Caleb Mitchell. Tech leads, 13-0
* The big plays keep coming for TTU early in this game. A high snap on a TSU punt attempt gave Justin Vann just enough time to come in and block the kick. Tech took over at the TSU 27 yard line.
* TSU answered Tech's big play with a bigger player. Sweeney had a pass picked off at the TSU 9 yard line which the Tennessee State linebacker returned 91 yards for a touchdown, closing their deficit to seven points. Tech leads, 13-6

2nd Quarter Notes

* Tech just narrowly avoided disaster. On fourth down deep in Tech territory, Jason Lennartz could not handle the snap which went over his head and rolled to the TTU 13 yard line. He was about to track down the ball and get off a booming 41 yard punt that was nearly blocked. Although he was only credited with a 41 yard kick, Lennartz actually kicked the ball about 70 yards with the roll.
* Taron Ryce just gave Tech its third turnover of the first half when he picked off Calvin McNairl's pass on a long pass down the sideline. Ryce had perfect position and wrestled the ball away from the the TSU wide receiver.
* Tech's offense has not been able to move the ball on this TSU defense so far today. Despite the defense causing three turnovers and blocking a kick, TTU only leads by seven points.
* TSU marched down the field on the ground, but once the Tigers tried to put the ball in the air, Tech forced its fourth turnover of the first half as Richmond Tooley picked off the pass on Tech's 20 yard line.
* Tim Benford moved into the top-10 in career reception as he hauled in his 90th career catch with just more than two minutes remaining in the half. Unfortunately, Tech could not put a drive together and were forced to punt.

Halftime Notes

* Caleb Mitchell had a huge first half for the Golden Eagles, finishing with 10 tackles, one fumble forced, one fumble recovered, one interception, one sack, one pass broken up and 1.5 tackles for loss.
* There was not much offense in the first half. TSU holds a slight advantage, 117-105.
* Lee Sweeney is 6-of-11 in the first half with 80 yards through the air. He had one touchdown to Colin Allen and one interception.
* Punter Jason Lennartz has done a good job of pinning TSU back deep in its territory. He is averaging 40.3 yards per punt on four attempts.
* Benford has two catches for 36 yards in the first half to lead the team.

3rd Quarter Notes

* Tech received the second half kickoff and will start with good field possession at their own 40 yard line.
* On third and two, Tech took a shot down field. Sweeney handed off to Dontey Gay who pitched the ball back to Sweeney, and he threw down field to Benford. However, the TSU safety was not fooled on the flee-flicker and got back to break up the pass.
* Mitchell keeps making big plays for Tech. On TSU's third and 13 play, Mitchell came off the edge and brought down the TSU quarterback for his second sack of the game, forcing a punt by the Tigers.
* It's be an uneventful third quarter played mostly on the TSU half of the field. Both teams have done their fair share of punting, while first downs are difficult to come by.
* Tech finally strung together a few positive plays to get down to the TSU 14, but Sweeney threw his second interception of the game to bring the Tech defense back on the field.

4th Quarter Notes

* Tech stopped TSU on its own one yard line to force a punt, but a roughing the kicker call gave the Tigers a new set of downs. However, the Tech defense again held and forced another Tigers' punt.
* Tailback Jimmie Blair just made a nice 27 yard run through the right side of the Tigers' defense. In limited action today, Blair has shown a burst when he gets his hands on the ball. Blair has 38 yards rushing on six carries.
* TSU marched down the field, capped off by a 12 yard touchdown run by quarterback Calvin McNairl. The Tigers started deep in their own territory but broke off big chunks of yard en route to tying the game at 13-13. Tied, 13-13
* Big answer for the Golden Eagles. On the first play of Tech's possession, Sweeney found Benford deep down the field sandwiched between two TSU defenders, but Benford out-jumped the defensive backs to haul in a 48-yard reception. With the catch, Benford moves into ninth place on Tech's all-time receptions list.
* Tech could not capitalize on Benford's big play and was forced to punt the ball away. Lennartz hit a beauty that was downed at the TSU four yard line.
* Tech almost just retook the lead on what looked to be a safety by Justin Vann. However, the ball was spotted at the one-foot line to bring up third down.
* The Golden Eagles held and forced a punt that Henry Sailes returned to the TSU 28. Sailes turned nothing into something, breaking several tackles on the return.
* Benford just made an incredible touchdown catch for the Golden Eagles. Sweeney lofted a pass to the sophomore in double coverage in the back corner of the endzone and Benford took the ball off of the one of the defender's back for the score. Benford now has five catches for 122 yards. This is Benford's third 100-yard receiving game of his career. Tech leads, 20-13
* TSU is in Tech territory with 14.8 seconds remaining. The ball is on the TTU 22 yard line with a big second down play coming up.
* TSU went for the end zone and nearly connected but Marty Jones broke up the pass to bring up third down with 7.6 seconds left.
* The Golden Eagles defensive line got good pressure on the quarterback on third down, forcing a pass the fell well short of its intended receiver.
* On the final play of the game, TSU went for the end zone again but a group of Tech defenders were there to knock the pass down. It was a great defensive effort today by the Golden Eagles. Tech wins, 20-13

Postgame Notes

* What a game for Caleb Mitchell -- 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovered and 1 interception. He was all over the field today.
* Tech wins the York Trophy for the first time in its three-year history.
* Dustin Dillehay also had a solid game defensively for the Golden Eagles with 13 tackles and a pass breakup.
* Third down conversions were hard to come by today for the Golden Eagles who were just 1-of-12 on third downs.
* Sweeney finished with 188 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, while Benford had 122 yards on five catches.

Tim Benford (center) is recognized as the winner of the 2008 Robert Hill Johnson Award. He was joined in a pregame presentation by head coach Watson Brown and Director of Athletics Mark Wilson

Colin Allen's first quarter catch gave the Golden Eagles a 13-0 lead.

Caleb Mitchell returns an interception to the TSU 28 in the first quarter. Mitchell had a HUGE day against the Tigers.

Jake McIntosh tracks down TSU quarterback Calvn McNairl.

Tech's 2009 Hall of Fame Inductees were recognized at halftime. From left, Director of Athletics Mark Wilson, Dena Adams Fairley, Jim Bishop, John Moorhead, Tony Stone, Branon Vaughn and President Bob Bell.

Anthony Lippe receives the 2009-2010 Budweiser Scholarship.

The Tech volleyball team was recognized at halftime for winning the 2008 OVC regular season and tournament championships. Head coach John Blair hoists the trophy, while President Bob Bell, OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche and Director of Athletics Mark Wilson look on.