By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – By the time kickoff rolls around on Saturday, it will have been two weeks since the Tennessee Tech football team last took the field.
The open date allowed the Golden Eagles to put a tough loss to UT Martin in the rearview mirror and look forward to the final five games of the 2019 regular season. After all, Tech has so much still to play for.
The Golden Eagles host Austin Peay on Saturday afternoon with kickoff scheduled for 1:35 p.m. Dylan Vazzano and Sam Brooks will provide the call on ESPN+ (subscription required), while Roger Ealey and Buddy Pearson will handle the radio duties on 98.5 KISS FM.
The forecast is currently calling for a 40-percent chance of rain, including showers, at game time on Saturday.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Golden Eagles are still holding on to a 4-3 record, with one more win putting the 2019 Tech squad among the 48 teams in school history with five wins or better in a season.
Tech is aiming for so much more. The Golden Eagles will look to pick up a win and knock the Governors down to 0-2 in the Sergeant York Trophy chase, presented by Delta Dental of Tennessee and Farm Bureau Health Plans. UT Martin and Tennessee State remain in the lead with a 1-0 mark each, with its final two contests on Nov. 9 (Austin Peay) and Nov. 16 (Tennessee State). The Golden Eagles host the Tigers in the series finale on Nov. 23, the final day of the regular season.
The Golden Eagles are also looking to close out the season with a statement – they don't just want to be seen as a good team, they want to soar higher than that. Tech has already won more games than the previous two seasons combined. One more win will equal the five-win tally in 2016, which was the team's best total since winning the Ohio Valley Conference title in 2011 with a 7-4 record and the program's only appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
In a best-case scenario, if Tech were to win its final five games, the Golden Eagles could conceivably finish with a 9-3 record, which would put the 2019 team tied for second in program history with the 1952 and 1977 teams for wins in a single season. The only Tech squad to win more was the legendary 1972 squad that compiled a 10-2 record, including an appearance in the Grantland Rice Bowl.
That's still a pretty tall task with some talented teams remaining on the Golden Eagles' dance card. In addition to this week's game against the Govs (4-3, 2-1 OVC), Tech heads to Murray State (4-4, 2-2 OVC) next week, returns for Homecoming on Nov. 9 against Jacksonville State (5-3, 2-2 OVC), hits the road one last time at Eastern Kentucky (4-3, 2-1 OVC) and closes out the season at home against Tennessee State (2-6, 1-3 OVC).
Coming off of the team's open date and recharging, the Golden Eagles enter this week's contest pretty healthy, including the return of a handful of players who have seen limited action in previous weeks.
The Governors come into Cookeville under the direction of Mark Hudspeth, who took over after Will Healy was named the head coach at Charlotte this past offseason. Under Hedspeth's watch, Austin Peay won two big back-to-back games at home against Jacksonville State and Southeast Missouri, but are 1-2 on the road, including losses to Tennessee State last week and East Tennessee State (2-5, 0-4 SoCon). The Govs did beat Mercer on the road 48-34.
Quarterback JaVaughn Craig has stepped in following an injury to Jeremiah Oatsvall, throwing for 1,409 yards this season and nine touchdowns as he has completed 100 of 182 passes. Craig has also rushed for 258 yards and four scores. Craig has been intercepted five times.
His counterpart, Tech sophomore Bailey Fisher, has thrown for 1,703 yards and 13 touchdowns, completing 136 of his 232 passes, while also rushing for 223 yards and eight touchdowns. Fisher has been intercepted nine times.
DeAngelo Wilson leads the Govs' receivers with 700 yards on 38 catches with six touchdowns. Baniko Harley (396 yds., three TDs), Keenan Barnes (235 yds., one TD) and Kentel Williams (106 yds., one TD) are the only APSU players with over 100 receiving yards on the season.
For the Golden Eagles, six players have broken the century mark, with true freshman Metrius Fleming leading in receiving yards and catches with 29 for 451 yards. He picked up his first receiving score of his career in the last game against UT Martin. Darrius Stafford (347 yds., three TDs), Austin Hicks (249 yds., three TDs), David Gist (183 yds., one TD), Tavin Kilpatrick (182 yds., three TDs) and Seth Huner (141 yds., no TDs) all over 100 yards on the season.
The Govs are allowing an average of 232.1 yards per game and have given up 16 passing scores. The Golden Eagles have given up an average of 259.1 passing yards with 18 passing touchdowns. Tech has averaged 266.1 yards passing per game with 16 touchdowns, while APSU has averaged 248.3 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Austin Peay has the advantage on the ground, rushing for 1,217 yards this season, including 549 yards and five touchdowns for Williams. Ahmaad Tanner (208 yds., three TDs) and Prince Momodu (132 yds., one TD) have also rushed in triple-digits totals this season.
Tech is led by Gist with 264 yards and one score, followed closely behind by Andrew Goldsmith with 259 yards and a score. Eight of Tech's 12 rushing scores have come from Fisher and the Golden Eagles have rushed for a total of 950 yards.
The Governors haven't allowed a lot of action on the ground, a total of 580 yards against – an average of 82.9 yards per game – and just four rushing touchdowns. Tech, on the other hand, has yielded 1,050 rushing yards (150.0 average) and 16 scores.
APSU kicker Logan Birchfield is the team's leading scorer with 55 points as he is 9-for-15 on field goals and 28-for-28 on extra points. He is a perfect 6-for-6 from 20-to-29, 2-for-6 from 30-to-39 and 1-for-3 from 40-49.
Haidar Zaidan is 5-for-7 on field goals for the Golden Eagles, hitting 1-for-1 from 20-to-29, 3-for-4 from 30-to-39 and 1-for-2 from 50-plus, including a career-long 51-yarder against Southeast Missouri.
Defensively, Juantarius Bryant leads the Govs with 57 tackles, three players – Josephus Smith, Matthew Gayle and Mason Harwell – have two sacks each, Kordell Jackson has five interceptions for 151 yards and five players have a fumble recovery each.
APSU's defense has eight interceptions and five fumble recoveries for 13 takeaways, while the offense has given up eight interceptions and has not lost a fumble for eight giveaways, a plus-five turnover ratio. Tech's defense has five interceptions and eight fumble recoveries for 13 takeaways, the offense 10 interceptions and five fumbles for 15 giveaways – a minus-two turnover ratio.
Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order.