By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Southeast Missouri threatened, but as the fourth quarter wound down, it wasn't just the Tennessee Tech football team that was opposing them.
Time was their enemy too.
The Golden Eagles put together a tremendous defensive effort to close out the game, keeping the game scoreless in the final 20 minutes to hold on to a 21-20 Homecoming victory on Saturday.
"It was a big win," said Tech head coach Marcus Satterfield. "We know it wasn't pretty, but it was proof that if we tried to play as hard as we could, we can overcome execution, we can overcome bad play calls, we can overcome anything. It was great that our seniors were leaders, they trusted the process and fought for four quarters, no matter what the momentum swings were and found a way to come out one point better than our opponent."
It wasn't just the defense keeping points off the scoreboard – the Tech defense also put some on. Elliott Normand snagged a Jesse Hosket pass out of the air – only his second interception of the season in 230 passes – and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
"Our defensive line was putting a lot of pressure on them," Normand said. "I read the run and it was a play-action and I just don't think the quarterback could see me because I was dropping back from the line of scrimmage. I just intercepted it and got a couple of blocks from my teammates."
Satterfield said, "It's really amazing, because he got Michael on that same play in camp, because you can't see him. He's not 'Too-Tall' Jones. He's dropping back into coverage like Michael did and the ball got behind Elliott's head. Elliott had to jump into the air, turn his body around and catch it. A lot of people fall when they land. When he lands, he runs and scores a touchdown.
"We challenged our defense because we only got one takeaway in the last couple of weeks, but we challenged them to not just set up a score, but to score and that's a huge credit to Elliott."
But Tech's defense also kept the Redhawks out of the end zone, forcing Ryan McCrum to kick a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter, then a 30-yarder in the third – the final scoring play of the contest.
McCrum also missed two touchdowns – a 35-yarder as the second quarter was expiring, then a 30-yarder with 11:53 remaining in the contest.
Offensively, it looked like a completely different game. The Redhawks (2-5, 2-2 Ohio Valley Conference) led 379-244 on total offense, 197-170 on passing and 182-74 on rushing.
But the Golden Eagles were finding the end zone.
Trailing 10-0 after the first quarter, Tech traveled 75 yards on 12 plays, scoring as Yeedee Thaenrat scored on a two-yard run.
Then, just 17 seconds later, Normand returned the Hosket pass for a pick-six, the Nick Madonia PAT giving Tech a 14-10 advantage.
The Redhawks retook the lead as Hosket threw a 47-yard strike to Kristian Wilkerson for a score, but with three minutes remaining in the first half, Dontez Byrd reached out in the end zone, snatching the pass thrown by Michael Birdsong out of reach from the SEMO defender for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Golden Eagles (3-5, 3-3 OVC) led 21-17 at the intermission.
Tech didn't score in the second half, but with the way the defense was working, it didn't have to. The Golden Eagles surrendered just the lone field goal, then shrewd clock management took care of the rest.
"Their defense really shut us down in the second half," Satterfield said. "We knew we'd have to get them on their heels and make them make plays. Our guys were definitely in a 'bend, don't break' mindset. They were making big plays, but one of our mindsets is to not let them score touchdowns in the red zone. We did that and forced them to kick field goals. They made some, but they missed some too. If we can do that, we have a very good chance to win. I'm very proud that our defense was very productive in the red zone today."
And as time started running our for the Redhawks, the clock almost became the 12th man for the Golden Eagles.
"It was huge," Satterfield said. "They were making plays, they were picking on Eriq (Fadahunsi), but it wasn't him – we put him in the worst situation possible. He was playing 8-to-10 yards and they were getting a free run at him, basically don't let him too deep, but don't let him score. He did a great job of letting the guy catch the ball so he could tackle him. He was smart enough to know that they'd try to get him on a double move. He forced an incompletion that stopped the clock, we hit them and got them into 3rd-and-long, but they didn't convert and they had to punt.
"The defense in the second half, the fourth quarter especially, made some crucial plays on first down to make it 2nd-and-10, then knock them back on third down. I'm really proud of our defense because they didn't get discouraged. They didn't care about anything else other than just playing as hard as they could."
Birdsong ended the game with 170 yards and a touchdown on a 14-for-23 passing day. Byrd caught eight of those passes for 97 yards and the touchdown. Thaenrat rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries.
For SEMO, Hosket ended his day with 197 yards on a 15-for-27 effort. Wilkerson caught four passes for 116 yards. Will Young rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Up next for the Golden Eagles is a bye week before heading to Knoxville to take on the University of Tennessee on Nov. 5.