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Golden Eagles snare road victory at EIU to open OVC slate

CHARLESTON, Ill. -- The Tennessee Tech defense forced four turnovers and the offense, fueled by big efforts from Tim Benford and Dontey Gay, scored 31 unanswered points as the Golden Eagles opened Ohio Valley Conference play with a 31-20 victory at Eastern Illinois Saturday night.

Tech (2-1/1-0 OVC) returns home next Saturday to host defending conference champion Southeast Missouri at 7 p.m. in Tucker Stadium. With the loss, EIU fell to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the league.

It was just the third time Tech has claimed a win in O'Brien Stadium, the first time since 1999. The win was the second consecutive for Tech over the Panthers.

Down 7-0 early, quarterback Tre Lamb led the offense to a 31-7 lead by early in the third quarter on 22-for-27 passing for 240 yards. Benford grabbed eight passes for 124 yards and Gay rushed for 96 yards and a career-best three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Junior Will Johnson had two of the turnovers with a fumble recovery and one of three Tech interceptions. Corey Watson and Caleb Mitchell also intercepted passes. Richmond Tooley topped the tackle chart with 10 and also broke up three EIU passes. The Tech defense limited EIU to minus six (-6) rushing yards. It was the second-lowest rushing total against Tech in school history behind a minus-41 yard effort against Morehead State in 1975.

EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 301 yards, going 29-for-52 with three touchdown tosses, but the sophomore was sacked four times and picked off three times.

After the Panthers had struck first on a 28-yard TD pass from Garoppolo to Chris Wright five minutes into the contest, Benford made one of the greatest catches in Tech history. He leaped over his defender and made the catch, kept his balance and carried tackles to the one-yard line for a 65-yard pickup. Gay hit paydirt on the next play to tie the score.

Watson's interception on the final play of the first quarter gave the offense the ball at the EIU 39, and Lamb's 25-yard pass to Zack Ziegler set up a 25-yard field goal by freshman Zach Sharp for a 10-7 TTU lead.

Pinned down at their own 19 following a 60-yard, bouncing punt, Tech drove 81 yards in 10 play as Lamb hit Demetrous Garrett for a four-yard TD and a 17-7 lead midway in the second quarter.

Ziegler hauled in a 25-yard pass to the two-yard line minutes later, setting up Gay's second touchdown of the night, a two-yard run with 49 seconds to play to increase the lead to 24-7 before halftime. That scoring drive covered 53 yards in seven plays.

On the opening kick of the second half, Kedrick Towles jarred the ball loose and Johnson recovered at the EIU 36, and Lamb needed eight plays to move his team into the end zone. Gay's two-yard run gave him his third TD of the night.

Tech appeared firmly in control but Garoppolo got the EIU offense moving, and the Panther defense stopped Tech on four consecutive possessions to make things interesting. First, EIU moved 65 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on a 21-yard pass to Wright, his second of the game. The two-point conversion was broken up by Tooley and Tech's lead was 31-13.

After forcing Tech three-and-out, the Panthers rode Garoppolo's arm through a nine-play, 59-yard scoring drive to make it 31-20. Sam Hendricks caught a four-yard TD pass for the score.

EIU stopped Tech again and got the ball back, but this time the Golden Eagle defense forced four consecutive incomplete passes. The Tech offense took over with 4:54 to play and an 11-point lead, and earned three first downs to run out the clock.


PREGAME NOTES

* The weather for tonight's game is....perfect. Mostly clear skies, cool. Temperature at 70 degrees. Very little breeze.
* Tech is playing without a couple of key players, who are injured and did not make the trip to Charleston. Tailback Adam Urbano and free safety Marty Jones are back in Cookeville. Dontey Gay will start at tailback, while true freshman Austin Tallant gets his second start at free safety.
* Tech welcomes back receiver Demetrous Garrett, who didn't dress last week against Maryville after an injury at Iowa.
* One other expected change in the defensive starting lineup, where Corey Watson will open at outside linebacker.
* The EIU Marching band welcomed Tech and its fans with an excellent rendition of the Tennessee Tech fight song (wish they would also play it every time Tech scores tonight!). The Iowa band also played the TTU fight song two weeks ago.
* EIU coach Bob Spoo is in his 25th and final season as head coach of the Panthers.
* Tonight's game is the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams. Each team is 1-1 overall, with a loss to a Big Ten opponent.
* EIU leads the all-time series, 12-5, including a 6-2 record here on O'Brien Field. After EIU won five years in a row, the Golden Eagles claimed a 34-20 win last season in Tucker Stadium. Tech's two wins on this field were 14-7 under head coach Mike Hennigan in 1999, and 41-14 under coach Don Wade in 1976.
* Tech and EIU rank first and second in the OVC in passing efficiency. Conversely, the teams rank first (Tech) and third (EIU) in pass efficiency defense.
* Newcomer Bud Golden, a sophomore transfer from Illinois (just 30 miles up the road) is available and dressed for action in tonight's game.
* Tech is wearing white jerseys and gold pants with their traditional white helmets. EIU is sporting blue jerseys and black pants, with silver helmets.
* Tech's game captains are Alden Olverson, Tim Benford, Dwight Evans and Ryan St. John.
* The stadium lights went out during the final measures of the national anthem. The teams will begin playing the game while EIU officials scramble to get them relit. It may take up to 20 minutes before they are back to full power......stay tuned.
* EIU won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Tech will receive the opening kickoff.

FIRST QUARTER NOTES
* Third-and-four, and Demetrous Garrett makes a sensational grab to prevent an interception, fighting for the ball with the defender. It's for no gain so Tech has to punt.Will Johnson gets downfield to make the tackle on the return.
* The Panthers strike first as quarterback Jimmy Garappolo connects with a wide open Cheia Wright for a 28-yard touchdown pass. With 9:48 to play in the quarter, the Panthers are on top, 7-0. It was a seven-play, 69-yard drive.
* Bud Golden returns the ensuing kickoff 16 yards, touching the ball for the first time in his career.
* Lamb hits Ziegler for a 22-yard pickup, but Tech penalized five yards for an illegal receiver downfield. First-and-15 back at the TTU 23. Lamb scrambles on third down, but his pass to the sticks is dropped. Campbell to punt, nearly blocked, but he gets it up through traffic and it goes out of bounds at the EIU 33.
* Dwight Evans gets a QB sack, and Tech forces EIU to punt. Garrett fields a bouncing kick and returns it to the TTU 34.
* Lamb heaves one deep and Tim Benford makes a brilliant, leaping grab over the top of the defender, keeps his balance and takes it all the way to the EIU one-yard line for a 65-yard pickup. Dontey Gay crashes in from the one for the touchdown. Zach Sharp to kick the PAT....it is GOOD, tie game, 7-7, with 6:13 to play first quarter. With his second catch of the game, Benford ties for seventh in the OVC in career receptions with 166, matching Jerome Williams of Morehead State. Gay's third TD of the year, one each game.
* Panther receiver drops a TD pass as he crosses the goal line, bringing up fourth down. Punt is downed inside the TTU five. Long way for Lamb & Co. to move.
* Tre Lamb barely gets out of the end zone to the one, then Gay goes 10. Third down pass incomplete, and Campbell will punt from his own end zone. EIU makes a fair catch all the way back at the Panther 38, for a 51-yard kick.
* Third-and-four, Garappolo's pass over the middle is intercepted by senior Corey Watson. He weaves his way to the EIU 39 as the first quarter ends. It was his second interception of the year and third of his career.

SECOND QUARTER NOTES
* Tech begins second quarter 1st-and-10 at the EIU 39. On first down, Lamb hits Ziegler over the middle to the 13. Next, he hits Garrett for five-yard gain to the eight. Garrett on the other side, nearly caught for a loss, but gets to the eight. Third and four at the eight -- Golden Eagles call timeout. Pass to Ziegler in the end zone almost caught, but not. Freshman Zach Sharp kicks a 25-yard field goal, the first of his Tech career, and Golden Eagles lead, 10-7, 13:45 to play first half. Five play, 31-yard drive that took 1:15 following the interception by Watson. Tech has intercepted the ball three times, and all three have either been returned for or led to touchdowns.
* Marcus Edwards sacks Garoppolo, and third-down pass knocked down by Cory McDonald. EIU forced to punt. Tech three-and-out and Campbell unloads a 46-yard punt to the EIU 17. Panthers three-and-out and punt. Scott Weatherford drives a low, line drive that bounces and bounces all the way to the Tech 19, a 60-yard effort that flips field position. Tech starts first-and-10 from its own 19 with 9:19 to go in the half.
* Third-and-inches, and Tech sends in two tight ends, including freshman William Stevens. He gets to the huddle where he's greted by...his older brother, Charlie. It's the first time they've ever been on the field together, since they never played on the same team in high school. Cool moment. Oh, yeah, Lamb gets the first down on a QB sneak.
* Pass toward Benford at the goal line and EIU called for pass interference. First-and-goal at the EIU five. Gay breaks tackle in the backfield and gains one. Lamb rolls right, then throws into the end zone where Garrett makes the juggling grab. Sharp's PAT makes it 17-7 with 4:46 to play first half. Sharp now 11-for-11 on PAT kicks. The drive was 10 plays, 81 yards and took 4:43.
* Lamb now 12-for-16 for 153 yards, and Benford has five grabs for 105 yards. It's his eighth career 100-yard receiving game.
* Tech faces fourth-and-one at the EIU 44, and Gay follows left side for gain of four and first down. Clock down to 1:30. Lamb hits Doug Page for first down at the 27. Lamb scrambles and finds Ziegler all alone at the two. He makes a diving catch. First-and-goal at the two with 1:01 to play. Gay goes in untouched behind the right side for the touchdown. Sharp kicks his third PAT and it's a 24-7 Tech lead with 48 seconds left in the half. It was a seven-play drive that covered 53 yards.
* Halftime and Tech leads, 24-7. Tech has 234 in total offense, with 38 rushing and 196 through the air. EIU has one yard rushing and 119 passing for 120 in total offense. Tech is 4-for-4 in the red zone. Time of possession just 20 seconds difference.

THIRD QUARTER NOTES
* Tech kicks off, and Kedrick Towles forces a fumble on the return that Will Johnson recovers at the EIU 36. Dontey Gay goes the final two yards for this third TD of the game, and Sharp's kick makes it 31-7 with 11:20 to play in the third quarter. Tech has now scored off both turnovers. This scoring drive was 36 yards in eight plays.
* Gay's three rushing tochdowns in this game equals his season total (3) from last year.
* Tech gets a third turnover, this time an interception by Caleb Mitchell. The offense moves to the EIU 15, but is stopped on third down. Sharp attempts a 33-yard field goal but misses wide right. EIU takes over at its own 20.
* Will Johnson intercepts a Panther pass over the middle at the EIU 44, the fourth turnover of the game for the Golden Eagle defense. Tech faces fourth-and-two at the 36 and Lamb runs, but is stopped inches short. EIU takes over with 23 seconds to go in the third quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER NOTES
* EIU faces fourth-and-eight from the Tech 21, and Garoppolo lobs one into the end zone that Chris Wright grabs for a touchdown with 12:48 to play. The PAT pass is knocked down by Richmond Tooley, so Tech's lead is 31-13. The EIU scoring drive ends Tech's run of 31 unanswered points. It took 10 plays and lasted 2:35 to cover 65 yards.
* Golden Eagles come up short and Campbell's punt goes out of bounds at the EIU 41 with 10:33 to play.
* Garoppolo sidesteps the rush and hits Kenny Whitaker for a first down at the Tech 35. Travis Adkins sacks the Panther quarterback for a three-yard loss. Pass is deflected by one EIU receiver and caught by another for a 10-yard gain to the Tech 27. Tackler Will Johnson injured on the play, but walks off with trainers. Third-and-two for EIU. This is a big play. Pass play picks it up by an inch. Another first down to the five, first-and-goal. Clock goes under eight minutes. Touchdown Panthers. Garoppolo finds Sam Hendricks over the middle with 7:51 to play. PAT kick makes it an 11-point game, with Tech on top 31-20. EIU scoring drive took just 2:42, going 59 yards in nine plays.
* Four-yard gain on first down by Gay, but Lamb sacked back to the 16 for a third-and-17. Pass complete to Gay at the 20, but he's short. Fourth down and Campbell to punt. Clock running and under six minutes. Kick takes a Tech bounce and downed at the EIU 36 with 5:27 remaining. Time for the defense to get it's fifth turnover.
* Pressure on QB and Will Johnson nearly makes an interception. Long pass on second down overthrown, brings up third-and-10 at the TTU 49.
* Screen pass set up nicely, but Marcus Edwards knocks down the pass. Fourth-and-10. Whew! Open receiver, but he drops it. Tech takes over on downs at the 49 with 4:54 to play. Time for the offense to put it away.
* Tre Lamb directs the offense through a 10-play, 43-yard drive that chews up nearly five minutes to cap the win. Tech moved it to the EIU four-yard line, where Watson Brown directed Lamb to take a knee rather that push for another score.