Golden Eagles expecting enthusiastic effort Thursday vs. UT Martin

Golden Eagles expecting enthusiastic effort Thursday vs. UT Martin

Click here to view/download Tech vs. UTM game notes (PDF)

By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- It's a Thursday night game with perfect weather expected, and it's Golden Eagle Blackout II, so the Tennessee Tech campus should be buzzing with excitement as UT Martin comes to town.

But, all that external enthusiasm aside, at the core of Thursday night's game is what promises to be a knock-down, drag-out, fight-to-the-finish Ohio Valley Conference game between the Skyhawks (3-2/1-1 OVC) and Golden Eagles (3-3/0-2 OVC).
A year ago, with UTM needing to beat winless Tech to clinch the OVC crown, coach Watson Brown's team stunned the Skyhawks with a 45-44 overtime victory. The Skyhawks haven't forgotten.
For this latest edition of a rivalry that began during the Great Depression, both teams have plenty at stake.
The Skyhawks are hoping a win will push them back into the FCS Top 25 rankings, after falling out of the polls following a 41-27 Homecoming loss to Jacksonville State last weekend.
The Golden Eagles are in need of a victory to jump-start a hoped-for rise back into contention in what should be a topsy-turvy conference race over the final seven weeks of the season.
The series has proven to be a dogfight through the years, with Tech owning a 20-10-2 advantage including a 14-8 mark since UTM joined the OVC in 1991. Last year's one-point win was typical of the rivalry, where a field goal -- or less -- has decided four of the last six contests.

In addition to the rivalry and the fact that it's an OVC contest, the game is also Tech's second of three in the race for the 2013 York Trophy. Tech is 0-1, following a loss to Tennessee State two weeks ago. UT Martin, meanwhile, plays all three of its York games in the next three weeks, facing Tennessee State next weekend and Austin Peay the following Saturday.

"If Tech and Martin aren't ready to play against each other, something's wrong," said Golden Eagle coach Watson Brown. "When we play TSU, Martin and Austin Peay, we should be ready to play because we're playing for something a little extra."

The Skyhawks have a pair of victories this year over Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 foes. They opened the year with a huge, 31-21 win at No. 24 Chattanooga and followed two weeks later by knocking off No. 7 Central Arkansas, 24-23.  In between, they took their lumps at FBS No. 19 Boise State, 63-14.

In OVC play, UT Martin owns a 17-7 win over Southeast Missouri before falling to Jacksonville State last weekend.

The Skyhawks have featured a balanced attack in 2013, averaging 201 yards through the air and 199 on the ground for 400 per game.  In comparison, Tech is averaging 312 yards per game with 145 on the ground and 166 through the air.

Transfer Dylan Farve has emerged as the starter at quarterback, and is throwing for 158.4 yards per game while completing 69.5 percent of his passes. He has thrown for eight touchdowns and only been intercepted four times. He has been sacked eight times., and has rushed for 171 yards.

DJ McNeil is the leading rusher for UTM, with 107 carries for 507 yards and two scores, which ranks first in the OVC.  Jeremy Butler has paced the Skyhawk receivers with 36 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns to rank third in the OVC. Chris Thompson has 16 catches for 182 yards and Dylan Davis has 10 catches for 112 yards.

Defensively, redshirt senior linebacker Ben Johnson is at the top of the tackles list with 45. A first-team all-OVC selection a year ago, he leads the OVC with 9.0 tackles per game.

Listing the leaders for the Golden Eagles isn't quite as simple, since several top players have missed games due to injuries. After six games, sophomore Ladarius Vanlier is the leading rusher with 234 yards on 31 attempts. Cody Forbes has 50 carries for 205 yards. Vanlier is third in the OVC in all-purpose yards.

In the pocket, junior Darian Stone started the first five games but missed the Murray State game last week. He has completed 53.8 percent of his 93 passes for 554 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Redshirt freshman Jared Thompson got the start at MSU, but left the game late with an injury, making him questionable for Thursday's tilt. Davis has thrown for 440 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions, completing 64.5 percent of his attempts.

Leading Tech in receptions each of the past three games, including 12 grabs at Murray State, senior Zack Ziegler tops Tech with 26 catches for 176 yards. Krys Cates and Cody Matthews have 14 catches apiece.

On defense, junior Marty Jones has a team-high 50 tackles and ranks fourth in the OVC. Linebacker Tra'Darius Goff is next with 47 tackles, while James Huguely has 36 stops.  Two other defenders who could have an impact on the game, Malcolm Mitchell and Jimmy Laughlin are tied for the team lead with 3.5 quarterback sacks each.

One area where fans should see some impressive performances is the punting game. Tech's Chad Zinchini ranks first in the OVC and second in the nation, averaging 48.0 yards per kick. James Satterfield is second in the OVC in punting, averaging 43.0 yards per kick.

Another good crowd is expected to fill Tucker Stadium. Through the first three home games, Tech is averaging 10,274 fans.
At halftime, the OVC Media Award will be presented to Roger Ealey, the "voice of the Golden Eagles" and the TTU women's basketball team will accept its 2012-13 OVC Championship Trophy.

Advance sale tickets are available for the game either at the Athletic Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling 931-372-3940. Tickets may also be purchased at the stadium on gameday, with ticket booths opening at 6 p.m.

The game is Golden Eagle Blackout II, with the first 2,500 fans into the stadium receiving free, specially designed "blackout" T-shirts. Fans are encouraged to wear black for the game.

The 98.5 Kiss FM Tailgate Park opens at 4 p.m., and the popular Golden Eagle Walk will stroll through the tailgate park at 4:45 p.m.