By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
MACOMB, Ill. – The song may say that the waiting is the hardest part. For the Tennessee Tech football team, the Golden Eagles started its first drive then had to wait as a lightning delay forced the teams back into the locker rooms.
So they waited.
And waited some more.
Following a 2:29 delay – 18 minutes shorter than the Golden Eagles had to endure in last season's opener at Chattanooga – Tech found the end zone on its second drive, quickly forcing the tempo in the contest. The Golden Eagles built on it, then held off Western Illinois for a 38-24 win on Saturday in Macomb, Ill.
The weather wasn't the only thing Tech had been waiting on. The win gave the Golden Eagles their first non-conference road win since beating Hampton in 2013. It was gave Tech its first 3-1 start since the 2011 campaign – the last season the Golden Eagles won a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title and the league's automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
"What time is it?" exclaimed Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander in the post-game interview. "We got to the locker room at 12:35 and it's now 8:35. Let me tell you what – I'm as proud of this team as I am of any team I've coached in 31 years. We responded well – we've challenged these guys to do that and they did. We had a great team meeting Sunday night, a great week of practice. Our guys recognized that we did some good things, but we could be much better.
"Even tonight, we weren't perfect, but we came up here to compete and we came up here to win. We said in the team meeting Friday that we'd stay and play all night and we weren't going back until we played this football game. We came here with a purpose."
And as the time wore on, the game extended from the field as it was the team's support staff taking its turn.
"Our strength and athletic training staff did a great job keeping everybody ready and hydrated. We ate – we sent (football administrative assistant) Debbie Parker and (director of athletics) Mark Wilson out and got the guys something to eat. We handled it well, but we addressed it in the hotel last night. We told them, after looking at the weather, that we may have to go in and out a few times. Who knows how long, but every time we go out there, we're going out there to compete and we're going out to win.
"I don't think we handled ourselves as well as we could have in our first road trip to Miami (Ohio), but we filed it away, knowing that the next time we went on the road, we needed to be more business-like, more focused than we were last time and we were."
The mission was definitely accomplished.
"This team played hard," Alexander said. "We brought a lot of energy for a team that was on a bus for eight-and-a-half hours. I know it'll be a nice bus ride home – it'll be long, but that's OK. We're pumped up, fired up and we've got OVC play next week. We've beat a good Southern Conference team in Samford, beat a good Virginia-Wise team at home, then went on the road to beat a Missouri Valley Football Conference team – I'm very proud of this team."
While Tech didn't score on its first drive after the weather delay, it did score on the second as Bailey Fisher floated a touchdown pass and lofted it right into the outstretched hands of Darrius Stafford. And as the first quarter came to a close, Tech stood on top.
Western Illinois (0-4) responded with a 21-yard field goal, then Tech added another touchdown before the intermission as Fisher found Tavin Kilpatrick with a 17-yard strike, putting Tech up 14-3 at the half.
Tech then added 10 points to open the third quarter as Fisher ran for the first of his three rushing scores, the first a six-yard run to cap a nine-play, 70-yard drive. Devin Parker extended Tech's lead to 24-3 with a 35-yard field goal.
Western Illinois, however, wasn't going down quietly. Following a quarterback change to Kevin Johnson, the Leatherneck offense started to rally. Before the third quarter closed, Johnson threw a 23-yard TD pass to Jack Whyte.
The fourth quarter opened as Fisher got those points right back, scoring on a one-yard rush to end a seven-play, 70-yard drive. The Parker PAT made it 31-10 with 12:15 left in the contest.
Johnson then took the Leathernecks on a nine-play, 74-yard drive, ending as he found George Wahee on a 18-yard touchdown. WIU then forced a quick turnover as Andre Whitley picked off Fisher – the second time in the contest. The Leathernecks only needed one play to score again as Johnson threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Houston. The extra point was good, and it was suddenly a one-possession game once more.
But Fisher engineered a drive to keep Tech far enough on top. Facing second-and-two on the Tech 48, the sophomore QB ran the ball three straight times – 12 yards, 14 yards and 26 yards for the touchdown.
Tech needed another stop to put the game away and it got it as Seth Carlisle intercepted Johnson on 2nd-and-14 from the Golden Eagle 37, putting the final nail in the coffin.
From there, all the Golden Eagles had to do was run out the clock. Andrew Goldsmith put the final nail in the coffin as he ran for a first down on a 14-yard carry, giving Tech the best two words in football: victory formation.
Offensively, Tech rolled up 549 yards of total offense to WIU's 380, with the Golden Eagles rushing for 218 yards and passing for 331. Tech went the entire first quarter without rushing the ball, but Fisher wound up with 90 yards and three scores on 13 carries, while Goldsmith had 72 yards on 10 totes.
Fisher also ended the game with 314 yards and two touchdown passes on a 23-for-37 day, despite two interceptions. Goldsmith also completed a 17-yard pass to Kilpatrick to move the chains. Fisher ended the game with 404 yards of total offense, putting the career charts in reach in perhaps Tech's next contest.
Metrius Fleming also had a quiet day of work, hauling in seven passes for 165 yards.
With the long road trip back to Cookeville ahead overnight, the Golden Eagles now set their sights on Ohio Valley Conference play, hitting the road again to Eastern Illinois (0-4) for a 4 p.m. contest.
"We'll take it and enjoy it, but we're 0-0," Alexander said. "These guys are ready to play and wings up. We couldn't be any more excited."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information