By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Despite the 34-10 score as the Tennessee Tech-Chattanooga game stretched from Thursday night into Friday morning as the game had a 2:45 minute lightning delay, there were still positives for the Golden Eagles to build on.
Tech (0-1) returns to action on Thursday night as it hosts Kennesaw State (0-1) in a nationally televised game on ESPNU.
"It was a game where I feel like if a few plays had gone differently, it could have been completely different," said head coach Dewayne Alexander. "It was a very close game at the half. We didn't make some of the plays we needed to make in the second half in order to win the game.
"You certainly can't lose the turnover battle in the first game of the year. We lost three, they lost one. We lost a big one to start the second half."
Josh Poplar had a great game in his first outing since missing the 2017 campaign. He led Tech in tackles with eight tackles, then scored Tech's first touchdown of the season as he brought an interception back 14 yards for the score.
"That was huge," Alexander said. "You could tell how much it meant to the guys because our entire sideline responded. It was a spark and a huge play. It was great to see him get that and I think he'll be the first one to tell you he'd love to have that in a winning effort. But he's a special player and it was great to see him get that."
Nick Madonia also added a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter to close out Tech's scoring.
Tech did have big stops by the defense early on, holding UTC to field goals in the first quarter and taking the 7-6 lead on Poplar's pick six and Madonia's PAT.
"I was really proud of our defense," Alexander said. "To make two red zone stops to keep the game at 6-0 was big, because we could have been down 14-0. The stops and the defensive touchdown gave us some momentum.
"Then they hit us with a hitch screen just to get some yards and they end up going 89 yards. That was a backbreaker, as was the interception to start the second half. That swung the momentum and it seemed like we played on our end of the field for much of the second half."
For true freshman quarterback Bailey Fisher, there was some growing pains, but there was also some flashes of brilliance in his first collegiate game. Fisher rushed 11 times for 78 yards, then passed for 117 yards on 10-of-26 passing. He lost a fumble on the Chattanooga 9, then had two interceptions, including one for a touchdown.
"He's a tough kid," Alexander said. "He's scrappy. I think he showed that tonight. We struggled to block their two inside guys tonight and a lot of people are going to struggle with them. They're really tough to establish any running game on and when they get you on down and distance – we had a lot of 2nd-and-longs and too many first down penalties to make it 1st-and-15. Those guys are awful hard to do anything with."
Andrew Goldsmith caught three passes for 63 yards to lead the receiving effort.
"I told the guys in the locker room they played hard," Alexander said. "They did play hard, we just didn't play well.
"The good thing I saw other than their two defensive tackles, a lot of the other mistakes that happened out here are very correctable. Bailey Fisher will learn a lot from this game. As a freshman, he made some mistakes, but he made some great improvised plays, some scrambles. People saw his toughness. He's only going to keep getting better. Our offensive line will keep getting better. Our kicking game – Luke Maynard did a nice job punting for us, our coverage teams were very good."