COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – For the first time in a decade, an Ohio Valley Conference football championships is within reach for Tennessee Tech, and the Golden Eagles will try to creep closer to a crown this weekend.
Tech hosts the high-scoring Murray State Racers Saturday for Homecoming in a contest that is sure to keep the scorekeepers jumping and the fans cheering.
Kickoff in Tucker Stadium is at 1:30 p.m., following the day's Homecoming Parade and three hours of merriment in the Magic 98.5 Tailgate Park, which opens at 10:30 a.m.
Tickets for the game are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940.
Murray State, picked to finish second in the league this year, brings a 4-4 overall record into the game including a 2-3 mark in OVC games. The Racers have been hard to contain this year on offense, leading the league and ranking sixth nationally by averaging 458.3 yards per game. MSU is fourth in the FCS and tops the OVC with 324 passing yards per game.
MSU quarterback Casey Brockman is recognized as one of the most dangerous passers in the nation, and is included on the Walter Payton Award Watch List. He has been named the FCS National Offensive Player of the Week three times in his career, including once this year following Murray State's 58-27 victory over Tennessee State. In that game, Brockman was 45-for-67 for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, and also caught a 15-yard scoring pass. He ranks first in the OVC and sixth in the nation in total offense, averaging 316.5 yards per game. He is second in the nation in passing yards, throwing for 2,507 yards.
Murray State also features a potent running game, led by tailback Mike Harris who is third in the OVC and 22nd nationally with 99.7 yards per game.
On defense, the most recent standout is Qua Huzzie, a sophomore linebacker, who was named the OVC co-Defensive Player of the Week along with Tech's Corey Watson. A transfer from University of Kentucky, Huzzie was also named OVC Newcomer of the Week after making 13 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and two sacks, and forcing two fumbles in MSU's 34-33 home loss to Eastern Kentucky last Saturday. On Monday, he was named the FCS National Defensive Player of the Week.
Three other Racer defensive stars are cornerback Dontrell Johnson (leads the league in passes defended), Kevin Robinson (second in sacks), and Sam Smalls (second in total tackles). Johnson is also second in punt returns.
Murray State's special teams are also effective, led by kicker Kienan Cullen. With two made field goals last weekend, Cullen tied the OVC record for career field goals with 52. He has scored 262 career points. He also leads the OVC in punting average.
So, on paper, the Racers come to town with plenty of weapons to spoil Tech's Homecoming bash. The Golden Eagles, however, have a few players among league and national leaders to counter the attack by the visitors.
Tech enters the contest tied for first in the OVC with a 4-1 league worksheet, and are ranked 15th in the FCS Coach's Poll with a 5-2 overall record following a 21-14 victory on the road at Jacksonville State last weekend.
To offset the Racer passing attack, the Golden Eagle defense ranks first in the league and 39th in the nation in pass efficiency defense with a 117.47 rating. Watson ranks first in the OVC and Caleb Mitchell is second in interceptions per game. Watson is third while Mitchell and Richmond Tooley are tied for 11th in passes defended. Dwight Evans leads the OVC in fumbles forced and Will Johnson is third in fumbles recovered. Tooley, Howard Griffin and freshman Austin Tallant are among league leaders in tackles, and Marcus Edwards is close to the top in the conference in sacks.
On offense, quarterback Tre Lamb is third in total offense, passing efficiency and passing yards per game. Runningback Dontey Gay is second in rushing, averaging 99.9 yards per game, and second in all-pupose yards. Gay is first in th OVC in scoring touchdowns. Receiver Tim Benford ranks first in the league in receptions per game and receiving yards per game, and is within reach of two school career records – most receiving yards (needs 114) and most touchdowns (needs one more).
Tech's special teams are also living up to their name, led by punter Nick Campbell and placekicker Zack Sharp. Campbell was named the OVC Special Teams Player of the Week and ranks among conference leaders in punting average, helping Tech lead the OVC in net punting. Sharp is third in scoring among kickers and first in PATs.
Adding it all up, Saturday's game appears to be a clash of the Titans.
Records in 2011: Tennessee Tech is 5-2 overall / 4-1 Ohio Valley Conference
Murray State is 4-4 overall /2-3 Ohio Valley Conference
Last Week: Tech beat No. 13 Jacksonville State, 21-14; Murray State lost to EKU, 34-33 Last Year: Murray State won, 44-13 Series Record: Tech leads, 41-34-1 National Rankings: Tennessee Tech is 15th/20th; Murray State is unranked Tech Radio:
Golden Eagle Sports Network (Roger Ealey, Buddy Pearson, Brandon Goodwin) also Teamline Direct (Dial 216-502-3200 / enter team code 0654) - $5 per game Internet: www.Magic985.com for audio stream Television: WCTE TV live (Tim Scruggs, Craig Delk) Live Stats: www.TTUsports.com Web sites: Tennessee Tech - www.TTUsports.com
Murray State - www.GoRacers.com Social Media: TTU Sports (Facebook); @TTUGoldenEagles (Twitter)