Big plays lift UT Martin to 35-7 OVC win over Tech

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The UT Martin Skyhawks (6-2/3-1 OVC) came up with a couple of big plays and took advantage of four Tennessee Tech turnovers to hand the Golden Eagles (3-5/1-3 OVC) a 35-7 Ohio Valley Conference loss Thursday night in a steady rain in Tucker Stadium.

After sophomore Henry Sailes exploded for an 87-yard kickoff return for a Golden Eagle touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter, the Skyhawks scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to build a 28-7 lead.

Brandyn Young ran four yards for his second TD of the game with 11:35 to play in the first half, capping an eight-play, 41-yard drive to make it 14-7.

Tech attempted a field goal four minutes later but a mishandled snap forced kicker Justin Kraemer to try to run, and he fumbled. Dontrell Miller returned the fumble 60 yards for a touchdown that turned the momentum toward the Skyhawks, and Roren Thomas took a pass 82 yards for a touchdown four minutes later to finish the first half scoring.

Early in the third quarter, UTM quarterback Cade Thompson found Mike Hicks on a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-7.

Young led all ball carriers with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while Thompson finished the game 10-for-21 for 175 yards and two scores. Thomas had four catches for 118 yards for UT Martin.

Junior tailback Cedric Wilkerson posted his career-best, rushing for 75 yards on 15 carries, and Derrian Waters added 25 yards on eight tries.

Lee Sweeney was 15-for-29 for 97 yards.

Defensively, other than the 82-yard TD pass-and-catch, the Golden Eagles limited UT Martin to 262 yards of total offense. Senior linebacker Corey Reed had a career-high 20 tackles, including two tackles-for-loss, while senior Maurice Smith added 13 stops. Taron Ryce had an interception and Dedrick Miley forced a fumble when he sacked Thompson.

The Golden Eagles visit Austin Peay next Saturday (Oct. 25) to face the Governors in another game for the Sgt. York Trophy.

Comments from coach Watson Brown

Martin is a good team, they played well and deserved to win. They take care of the football.

We just don't give ourselves any chance. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. It's amazing how many poor things we can do.

We're really struggling on offense. When you're struggling and you play somebody that good, you really see what work you have to get done.

Our defense played solid, but they should. It's raining and the ball is wet. That's when the trenches matter, you've got to stop the run, and run the ball. We stopped the run decently, but gave up a couple big plays here and there.

We're just not playing near well enough to give ourselves a chance to win. We make so many mistakes, and the other team then gets a lead and can just sit on it.

Every time we start to get momentum, we seem to find a way to shoot ourselves in the foot, whether it's a bad snap on a field goal, all kinds of stuff, it's unbelievable.

We have a long, long way to go, but I'll tell you what, these kids are trying. It's not a lack of effort, it's a lack of playing good. That's about all I can say right now.

I will be very surprised if Martin isn't one of the teams in the playoffs at the end of the year.

Comments from Cedric Wilkerson

I think we showed another dimension of our offense tonight. We have some good receivers, especially freshmen stepping up, but I think tonight we showed that we can run the ball too.

Moving the ball as an offense. We have a lot of talent on offense, and we haven't found our true identity yet. We know we can pass the ball, and run it, but we haven't been able to help out our defense and put points on the board, like we know we should.

As a running back, we love when it rains because we know that we're going to be pounding the ball. I feel like as running backs we stepped up to the plate when our number was called. The line did a beautiful job, every time they came back to the huddle they were excited because they kept pushing the defense back.

We want to let the seniors, give them something to talk about. We as a team, want to be playing for pride, because we still haven't found our true identity in our offense yet, but when we do, we're going to be really dangerous.

Comments from Corey Reed

We practice all the time running to the ball. That's why we make a lot of plays, because we're always running to the ball. We worked on the bubble screen all week in practice.

In practice on special teams we practiced with a wet ball, because we knew the rain was coming.

We don't change anything in practice, we'll still show up on Sunday at 1:30, we're still going to practice the same way.

Comments from Henry Sailes

I was just trying to execute what coach Cox taught me to do, stick to my blocks and always stick to the outside, no matter what happens.

Pre-game notes

Tonight's match-up will be Tech's first of three games in the hunt for the 2008 Sgt. York Trophy. The Sgt. York Trophy goes to the winner in the series between the four Tennessee Ohio Valley Conference schools, Tech, UT Martin, Austin Peay and Tennessee State.

The game-time temperature is 64 degrees, with a steady rain. It will be the first game this season that Tech has played in the rain.

Tonight's game is the final night game at Tucker Stadium this season. Tech's final two home contests are both slated for afternoon kickoffs.

UT Martin RB Brandyn Young is the OVC's reigning Offensive Player of the Week. Young ran for 213 yards and four touchdowns against Eastern Illinois last week.

Tech was the last team Skyhawk opponent to not punt. The Golden Eagles accomplished the feat on Nov. 21, 2002.

The Golden Eagles will take the field wearing purple jerseys, with white pants, and white helmets. The Skyhawks will be covered in white from head to toe, with white jerseys, helmets and pants.

First quarter notes

On UTM's first possession, Tech CB Taron Ryce intercepted a UTM pass at the Tech 14 yard-line. Ryce had two interceptions against the Skyhawks last season. The interception is the first turnover gained by the Golden Eagles in OVC play this season.

Shortly after the Golden Eagles took over, UTM forced and recovered a fumble at the Tech 41 yard-line. UTM was unable to convert on a field goal on the drive.

The Skyhawks were able to put together an eight play, 71-yard scoring drive, to take a 7-0 lead. However, Tech's Henry Sailes returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, to tie the score at 7. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown for the Golden Eagles this season.

Second quarter notes

With Tech attempting a 44-yard field goal trailing 14-7, a botched snap was picked up by kicker Justin Kraemer, and fumbled at the ball, which was returned for a UTM touchdown, giving the Skyhawks a 21-7 lead.

After a missed Tech field goal, UTM took over and completed a pass for 82 yards and a score, to take a 28-7 lead.

Halftime notes

There were only four total penalties in the first half. Tech was penalized three times for 18 yards, while UT Martin was flagged once for five yards.

There were a total of five turnovers in the first half. Tech took a fumble and an interception, while the Skyhawks took two fumbles in an interception.

The Skyhawks dominated most offensive categories in the first half, including a 220-53 advantage in total offense.

Third quarter notes

On a play you won't see very often, Tech QB Lee Sweeney attempted a quick punt on a fourth down, which was blocked by UTM. The Skyhawks were scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, and took a 35-7 lead.

Tech's Cedric Wilkerson broke loose on a punt return, running 24 yards, before fumbling the ball at the Tech 45 yard-line, which was recovered by UTM.

Fourth quarter notes

On his 15th carry of the game, Wilkerson reached the 75-yard rushing mark, his highest of the season, and his career.