By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – If anything was true for the Tennessee Tech football team on Thursday night, it was definitely a learning experience.
Squaring off with the FCS No. 25-ranked Western Illinois Leathernecks, the Golden Eagles had a tough time putting together offense against a tough defense. However, there were plenty of positives for Tech to continue to build on following the 41-14 loss at Tucker Stadium.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Andre Sale took his first career snaps for the Golden Eagles in a tough situation and made the best of it, throwing two touchdown passes as he completed a 61-strike to Darrius Stafford to get Tech on the scoreboard, then a 52-yard scoring pass to Dontez Byrd.
Sale ended the game with 223 yards of passing on an 11-for-22 night, a solid effort for the young QB.
However, the Golden Eagles were stymied on the run. Tech was held to zero yards on 21 carries, Andrew Goldsmith led Tech with six carries for 14 yards, with four players held to negative gains to neutralize the total.
Tech kept the game close early on, allowing just a 41-yard field goal from Sam Crosa in the first quarter, then the Leathernecks extended their lead with a one-yard touchdown run from Khalen Saunders to make it 10-0 in favor of WIU at the half.
But in the third, the Leathernecks extended their lead with 24 unanswered points. Crosa added a 20-yd field goal, then Jaelon Acklin rushed for a 16-yard score. Former Cookeville Cavalier Vic Johnson entertained his family and hometown fans with a 16-yard touchdown run, then Mike Viti scored on a 45-yard interception return just before the third quarter ended.
WIU added one more tally to the scoreboard as Sean McGuire threw a 17-yard pass to Acklin early in the fourth.
Defensively, Tech put together a valiant effort to counter the Leatherneck offense. The Golden Eagles had three players with double-digit tackles, led by Elliott Normand with a career-high 18 stops – five shy of the school record set by Jim Youngblood against UT Martin in 1972. Deontay Wilson had 11 tackles, while Deven Sullivan had 10.
Nick Madonia had a good effort trying to control the field position battle, punting a 65-yarder – one yard shy of his career-longest last season at Jacksonville State -- and pinned WIU inside the 20 twice.
The Golden Eagles (0-1) hit the road for the next three weeks as they travel to Kennesaw State, Ball State and Eastern Kentucky in succession. Tech faces the Owls on Sept. 9 with a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information