Fourth quarter Golden Eagle rally just misses in first OVC loss

Fourth quarter Golden Eagle rally just misses in first OVC loss

Fourth-quarter rally falls just shy in Tucker Stadium

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — A fourth-quarter rally wasn’t quite enough to lift 19th ranked Tennessee Tech over Tennessee State Saturday at Tucker Stadium as four costly turnovers wrecked the Golden Eagles’ bid for a fifth consecutive victory.

It wasn’t for lack of heart-wrenching effort that Tech (4-2, 3-1 OVC) suffered its first conference loss of the season. The Golden Eagles nearly overcame their self-inflicted mistakes by scoring the final 20 points of the game and earned themselves a chance to win before coming up two points short.

TSU, meanwhile, won its second-consecutive OVC game after snapping a nine-game conference losing streak last week.

Tennessee Tech threw two interceptions and twice lost fumbles, a combined four turnovers that led to 14 Tennessee State points. The Tigers appeared to break the game open in the third quarter after recovering a fumble at the Tech 23-yard line and scoring on a 15-yard Dante Thomas touchdown run to take a 42-20 lead with 10:28 left in the quarter.

The Golden Eagle defense buckled down, however, holding the Tigers off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game and allowing the offense to chip away at the deficit.

Tech cut the lead to 42-40 with just 15 seconds left to play when Tre Lamb hit Zack Ziegler on a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Golden Eagles recovered the ensuing onsides kick attempt, but officials ruled the ball did not travel the required 10 yards, giving TSU possession and ending the game.

Lamb completed 34 of 58 passes for 348 yards, notching his first career 300-yard passing game. Lamb broke three school records on the night, accounting for the most completed passes in a single game (34), the most pass attempts (58) and the most total play (69, taking into account his 11 rushes).

The Golden Eagles amassed 36 first downs on the night compared to 19 for TSU. The 36 first downs set an all-time single-game record, breaking the previous record of 32 set in 1976 against Nebraska-Omaha.

Zach Sharp booted four field goals on the night for Tennessee Tech, including a career-high 49-yarder to cut the TSU lead to 28-20 just before halftime. He also connected on four extra points to account for 16 total points.

Sharp hit a 31-yarder with 3:14 left in the third quarter to begin the Golden Eagle comeback, and Tommie McBride forced a TSU fumble that was recovered by junior linebacker Howard Griffin at the Tennessee State 46-yard line on the ensuing drive. Tech launched a drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass from Lamb to Charlie Stevens, cutting the lead to 42-30 with 13:52 left in the game.

The Golden Eagle defense then forced TSU three-and-out, and the offense set up a Sharp 26-yard attempt to cut the lead to 42-33. Tech’s defense stepped up once again, forcing a Tiger punt from deep in TSU territory, and the offense drove to the Tennessee State 14-yard-line before stalling. A holding penalty and a sack moved the ball back 18 yards, and Sharp’s 42-yard attempt his fifth field goal of the evening fell about a yard short of the crossbar.

TSU put the ball on the ground again and Will Johnson recovered for the Golden Eagles at their own 21-yard line with 2:47 left to play, setting up the Lamb-to-Ziegler touchdown with 15 seconds left.

Tech finished with 462 yards of total offense compared to 398 for TSU.

Dontey Gay was the Golden Eagles’ leading rusher, carrying 11 times for 75 yards and one touchdown. Adam Urbano made his return to the field, seeing action for the first time since suffering an high ankle sprain in the season-opener at Iowa, and carried eight times for 32 yards while catching four passes for 25 yards.

Tim Benford was Tech’s top receiver, catching 10 passes for 122 yards. The 10 catches tied Benford’s career-best. Zack Ziegler hauled in eight catches for 79 yards and a score, and also rushed four times for 23 yards and another score, giving him 102 all-purpose yards.

Tennessee State quarterback Mike German went 19-for-29 for 232 yards and two touchdowns, while the Tigers were led on the ground by Dante Thomas, who carried 14 times for 79 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Calvin McNairl caught four passes for 96 yards.

The Golden Eagles have a bye week next week before traveling to league-leading Jacksonville State on Oct. 29. Tech still controls its own destiny in the hunt for the OVC title. If the Golden Eagles win the remainder of their games, they would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over any other one-loss team.

Tennessee State struck first, taking advantage of a Gay fumble deep in Tech territory on the opening drive and scoring on a 12-yard pass from German to Jeremy Pryor. The Tigers took a 14-0 lead halfway through the first quarter on another touchdown strike from German to Devin Wilson.

TTU answered, however, tying the game with two scores on a Gay one-yard run and a Ziegler 10-yard run. Tennessee State took a lead it wouldn’t lose, however, on a one-yard run by Dante Thomas to pull ahead 21-14 early in the second quarter.

Sharp connected on his first field goal of the night to cut the lead to 21-17 with 9:10 left in the half, but TSU extended the advantage to 28-17 on a Trabis Ward three-yard touchdown run with 3:20 remaining. Sharp’s 49-yarder cut the deficit to eight at halftime.

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