By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Seated alongside Tennessee Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander for his post-game press conference on Saturday night, there were three young Golden Eagles who put together big games to help give Tech a 31-14 victory over UVa-Wise.
The team is loaded with them, and, in many cases, that might cause for alarm. But for the Golden Eagles and Alexander, not so much. The sight of Metrius Fleming, David Gist and Tai Carter is one of optimism and that's just scratching the surface for Tech.
"It is a positive," he said. "In our first two games, we played 23 freshmen, redshirt freshmen or guys who are in their first year of competition, then we're also playing 15 sophomores, so that's almost 40 players who are very young guys. You see their athletic ability, you saw it tonight with plays from all three of these guys."
Tai Carter, a sophomore defensive back out of Spring Hill's Summit High School, helped put the game out of reach as he recovered a fumble in the second quarter and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown.
"You talk about needing defensive guys, needing guys that can run and hit," Alexander said. "There's guys that can tackle people with the ball, then you have guys who can hit people with the ball, scoop it up and run it in. Tai Carter is one of those guys.
"He's had a great fall camp … there hasn't been a better player in spring practice and fall camp, and after scrimmages, I talked about Tai Carter a lot. You saw that tonight and he's a very good football player."
Much has been talked about Metrius Fleming and his route to the Golden Eagles. The Elbert County (Ga.) product ran for a 66-yard touchdown in his first game and added his second touchdown of the season on Saturday in dramatic fashion.
Following UVa-Wise's first touchdown of the contest to go up 7-0 on Darrien Newton's seven-yard run and Daryian Basco's PAT, Fleming retrieved the kickoff and ran it all the way back, 91 yards to paydirt and the score. Devin Parker tied the game with the PAT.
"Metrius Fleming is a fantastic player," Alexander said. "He's a very mature player. He recognizes when our team need to make a play and he has made one in every single game. His kickoff return against Samford was a huge moment (setting up a touchdown drive late), and the kickoff return tonight was at a huge moment."
Cookeville standout David Gist already had heroics this season, hauling in the game-winning two-point conversion catch from Bailey Fisher against Samford. Day Day, as he is affectionately known by friends, family and fans, came up big in a huge moment with the game tied in the second quarter.
He ended a nine-play, 57-yard drive as he powered through the visiting Cavalier defensive line to pick up a one-yard touchdown score.
"The thing about David Gist is that Andrew Goldsmith is a very good running back," Alexander said, "David stays patient. When you have two running backs like that that, they can wear defensive guys down, and David comes in and runs it really hard."
Before the end of the first half, sophomore QB Bailey Fisher kept the ball on second and goal at the Wise 1 and converted it into six more points, with Devin Parker's PAT putting Tech up 28-7 at the intermission.
"We have a lot of other guys on the team as well that are stepping up," Alexander said. "They're making contributions as young players and I think they will continue to get better. We have to understand what we need to do to get better. I want to see this team continue to mature. We're the only thing holding us back. I think our guys recognize that and we're going to take steps to get that done."
The second half didn't see a lot of scoring, but UVa-Wise added a scored on a Tanner Bernard 31-yard pass to Markel Harrison to add to Darrien Newton's first-quarter, seven-yard touchdown.
Parker wrapped up Tech's scoring with a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
In the process, Tech collected its 149th win in Tucker Stadium. With the victory, Tech equals its wins from 2017 and 2018 combined and equals its best start since going 2-1 in the 2013 season.
"This is a big moment for us," Alexander said. "We now have to see how we handle these first three weeks and take those lessons we have learned as we get set to handle this stretch of FCS games. I know this – we hope that the next time we enter Tucker Stadium, it's going to be a huge game.
"The thing these guys haven't experienced yet is the more wins you have, the bigger the games get, the exciting they get, and the more meaningful they get. There's nothing more fun than playing in meaningful games. There's nothing more fun than coaching in meaningful games when there is something on the line."
Alexander added, "This team needs that challenge. When they put in that Western Illinois film and start studying, every one of them are going to be focused and ready to go."
The Golden Eagles return to action next week as they travel to Western Illinois for their final non-conference game of the 2019 campaign.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information