By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
MARTIN, Tenn. – With 68 seconds left in the game, Tennessee Tech trailed by one possession, a deficit that was certainly within reach if the right things fell in place.
However, a kickoff return on an onside kick and an interception return for a touchdown in the final 62 seconds dashed those hopes as UT Martin claimed its first Ohio Valley Conference win of the season with a 44-23 victory on Saturday at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
It was literally a story of two halves as Tech struggled in the first as UTM posted a 21-9 lead at the intermission. But in the second half, the Golden Eagles made a furious comeback, cutting the deficit to one possession at 31-23 with 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"That's all we can ask for," said Tech head coach Marcus Satterfield. "We kept telling them not to look at the scoreboard and just play for six seconds and play as hard as you can. They understand that terrific effort can overcome bad execution. Poor effort can never overcome precise execution. They finally figured it out but it was a little too late. They kept working and that's all I can ask for."
However, mistakes late turned the tide and put the game out of reach as Tae Martin returned the ensuing onside kick to score a 43-yard touchdown. After that, the Skyhawks ran out the clock as Julian Thompson-Clay intercepted a Michael Birdsong pass and returned it 86 yards for a score.
Tech (1-3, 1-1 Ohio Valley Conference) returns home for a contest next Saturday against Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Statistically, Tech's second-half efforts made it a much closer game than the score indicated as the Golden Eagles compiled 378 yards on 69 plays, while the Skyhawks had 366 yards on 64 plays.
"We had crucial penalties," Satterfield said. "We'd convert on a 3rd down then have a holdin penalty. We did that twice in the first quarter. We had three special teams penalties that pushed us inside our 10. When you do that, you're not going to win many ball games."
Birdsong threw for 274 yards on 17-for-38 passing and also led Tech's rushing attack with 13 carries for 56 yards. Yeedee Thaenrat led the Tech receivers with five catches for 50 yards. Jordan Smith had a career-high 79 yards on three catches.
Nick Madonia kicked a career-high three field goals, connecting from a career-long 42, 25 and 20.
Defensively, Elliott Normand also had a career-high 13 tackles.
For the Skyhawks, Troy Cook passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns as he completed nine of his 16 attempts.
On the second play from scrimmage, Deontay Wilson picked off a Gunnar Holcombe pass and returned it 34 yards to put the Golden Eagles into position at the Martin 24. After five plays, Thaenrat put Tech on the scoreboard, scoring on a one-yard push into the end zone. Madonia's PAT failed, leaving Tech up 6-0.
However, the Skyhawks (2-2, 1-0 OVC) came storming back. Jaimiee Bowe ran for a 14-yard touchdown, then Mitch Mersman connected on the PAT to put UTM up 7-6.
Early in the second quarter, Greg McKillion caught a 40-yard pass from Cook for a score. Tech countered with the first of the three Madonia field goals, but the Skyhawks scored once more in the first half as Londell Lee hauled in a 41-yard strike from Cook for a touchdown.
Ladevin Fair ran for a 13-yard touchdown for the only score in the third quarter, with the PAT making it a 28-9 game after three quarters.
Tech put up 14 points in the fourth, starting with a 25-yard field goal from Madonia. Then Andrew Goldsmith scored on a 22-yard run and Alex Carling caught the two-point conversion pass from Birdsong to make it a 28-20 game with 5:50 remaining.
Mersman and Madonia traded field goals, then UTM scored on the two miscues to close out the contest.