Defense stops everything in Saturday scrimmage ….except Sweeney and Sailes

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The defense shined Saturday night when Tennessee Tech held its first scrimmage of fall camp, according to head coach Watson Brown.

“I was real pleased with the defense, especially the number one defense. I think the number twos held their own, too. I think it was the best defense I’ve seen in a scrimmage since I’ve been here.
The only negative was that they didn’t force any turnovers,” Brown said.

Combining an aggressive pass rush with sure tackling, the Golden Eagle defense stopped most of the offensive efforts for most of the night.

Most…but not all.

The damage was done by two familiar names -- senior quarterback Lee Sweeney and junior tailback Henry Sailes – who both looked sharp during the 70-play scrimmage.

Sweeney directed all three-and-a-half of the four scoring drives, connecting on 11-for-17 passes for 107 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to sophomore Tim Benford.

Sailes had three carries for 67 yards including a 43-yard TD scamper.

“I think Lee is really coming on. He’s ready to have his best year yet,” Brown said of his senior signal-caller from Mt. Juliet. “He was on time tonight, he didn’t force the ball, and he made some good throws through pressure. He’s had a really good week.”

Tech opened Saturday’s scrimmage with some kicking drills, and freshman Colton Billups had a 46-yard return on the first kickoff of the night.

Next came some punting drills, and sophomore Nick Campbell crushed three of his five kicks well beyond 50 yards. Jason Lennartz had a 45-yard effort on his only try.

The defense established itself on the first possession of the night, with Corbin Miles and Mauricio Wallace breaking up a third down pass. The number two defense forced the first offense into a three-and-out on the second possession.

Redshirt freshman Tre Lamb directed the offense to its initial first down on the next possession, before stalling following a penalty.

Another penalty and two incomplete passes gave Sweeney a slow start on his second possession, but he got things turned around with a 10-yard completion to Dontey Gay on a third-and-15. On fourth down, Henry Sailes burst through for a 12-yard pickup and a first down.

Sweeney overcame another penalty with a 12-yard pass to Antonio Robinson, before Sailes dashed through the left side for a 43-yard TD. It capped a 75-yard, seven-play scoring drive and Tim Donegan added the PAT.

Sophomore Clint Brewster and the No. 2 offense went three-and-out twice against the No. 1 defense, before Sweeney got another chance and marched Tech 60 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. The drive began with a 17-yard pass to Colin Allen, followed by a 12-yard Sailes run. Tremaine Hudson had a 16-yard gain to the three, setting up a three-yard TD by Gay and another Donegan PAT.

Inside linebacker Howard Griffin came up with a big tackle behind the line of scrimmage to stop the next possession, and once again it was Sweeney’s turn.

This time, Sweeney hooked up twice with Benford during the 35-yard scoring drive. On the second completion to last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year, Benford found the goal line for the team’s third touchdown of the night.

After a brief “halftime” break, junior Cass Barnes got his second chance to direct the offense and appeared to break free for a 27-yard gain to the three-yard line, but a holding penalty wiped out the effort. Donegan attempted a 42-yard field goal which went wide right.

Sweeney got the offense moving with completions to Billups, Allen and Robinson, before yielding to Lamb for the balance of the drive. The youngster from Calhoun, Ga., overcame a dropped pass and a penalty, hitting Robinson for a 19-yard gain to the 12. That set up a 30-yard field goal by Lennartz for the final points of the night.

Lamb finished the night 5-for-10 for 42 yards.

The offense finished with 292 yards of total offense on 65 plays, with amazing balance between the air and ground results. The passing game picked up 150 yards as the four quarterbacks combined to go 18-for-33 without an interception. The ground game gained 142 yards on 32 carries.

In addition to the 67 yards by Sailes, Hudson had six carries for 39 yards. Nine receivers caught passes, led by Robinson with four catches for 51 yards. Benford had three catches for 27 yards and Allen had three for 31 yards.

“The quarterbacks didn’t get much opportunity because of the dominance by the defensive line,” Brown said. “The best thing I saw was that they didn’t force any throws.”

The third-year coach wanted to use the scrimmage to look at the newcomers in action, and to get film so his staff could make some personnel decisions and firm up the depth chart.

Among the newcomers, Brown pointed to the play of freshman Colton Billups from Fayette, Ala., and Zack Zeigler from Greeneville, Tenn.

“Colton Billups did some good things, and I thought Zack Zeigler did some good things,” Brown said. “Both of them had a good week.”

Following a week of adjustments, Brown and his squad will shift gears this week, a stretch he refers to “get better” week.

“This is ‘get better’ week for us. We have to improve. We need to be physical and stay focused,” he said. “Our fundamentals have to get better. Over the next 10 days we’ll get everything in place, and then we’ll start preparing for the first game.”

Tech's second scrimmage is set for next Saturday, Aug. 29, the featured event at the annual Gathering of Eagles Picnic. The free event inside Tucker Stadium begins with free food and drinks at 12:30 p.m., and the scrimmage at 1 p.m. Free posters and schedule cards will be available, and fans can also purchase the 2009 Golden Eagle Football Media Guide.

The players and coaches will be available to sign autographs and meet with fans after the scrimmage.

Season tickets are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940. The regular season opener is Thursday, Sept. 10, against Pikeville College.



Photos by Tony Marable.
Top: Lee Sweeney
Middle: Tre Lamb
Bottom: Zack Zeigler returns a punt