By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
MUNCIE, Ind. – For the Tennessee Tech football team, preseason is officially over.
In what was a closer contest than many probably expected, the Golden Eagles hung in with their Football Bowl Subdivision brothers out of the Mid-American Conference, Ball State, and battled to the end, falling 28-13 on Saturday in Muncie, Ind.
"We can never accept and tolerate losing," said Tech head coach Marcus Satterfield. "That's disaster. To see how our kids have reacted in the last three weeks – and I've been really hard on them and been honest with them – but we've worked hard and had some tough things to deal with. We've looked at the truth and these kids have practiced hard all week and they left everything they had on the field today.
"We played awful, we lined up wrong, we fit in the wrong gaps, we were making the wrong calls on defense and it really opened our guys up. We played that bad and still had a chance to win the game because we did play so hard. I don't think at any other time in my career could I be any prouder of these guys. They laid it all out on the line, we never looked at the scoreboard. We told them that it doesn't mean they can let up and not play as hard next week (against Eastern Kentucky). If we can just continue to get a little better from today, we'll be just fine."
For the Golden Eagles (0-3), it was the closest contest against an FBS opponent since a 42-32 loss to Ohio in 1990. However, Tech does fall to 0-32 in contests against FBS schools.
But the bright side was that the Golden Eagles certainly didn't back down against the Cardinals. Andrew Goldsmith rushed for a three-yard touchdown among his 13 carries for 64 yards and 121 all-purpose yards.
The Golden Eagles also got a pair of field goals from Nick Madonia from 37 and 21 yards out to add to their scoring.
As a team, Tech compiled a respectable 355 yards of total offense, despite a slow start.
However, the Golden Eagles definitely made things a little uncomfortable for the fans in Schuemann Stadium in the fourth quarter. As Morgan Hagee lined up for a 52-yard field goal, Josh Cunningham rushed in and blocked the try, with the Golden Eagles recovering the loose ball at their own 35.
Tech was able to drive into Cardinal territory, but turned the ball over on downs for the first time this season at the BSU 42. Ball State responded, driving down to the Tech 13, but Elliott Normand forced and Joe Robertson recovered a fumble, giving the Golden Eagles another chance.
And Tech capitalized, driving the ball to the Cardinal 4 in five plays, including a 46-yard pass from Andre Sale to Byrd. Once Tech was in a 1st-and-goal situation, however, Ball State was able to push Tech back to the 24 with a holding penalty against the Golden Eagles and a 10-yard sack. Sale attempted a pass to Donte Horton on 4th and 24, but the pass sailed incomplete, ending Tech's last chance to make some noise as the Cardinals were able to go into victory formation and kneel out the clock.
"Our defense kept saying 'What's next?' and made plays," Satterfield said. "Then our offense was able to hold on to the ball for a long time. That's what we've got to do. I can't celebrate it, because that's what we're expected to do. But I'm proud of these guys and glad to be their coach."
Sale ended the game with 239 yards passing as he went 19-for-34 with one interception. Luke Ward was also saddled with an interception as he went 0-for-1 passing.
Tech however was able to force BSU quarterback Riley Neal into two interceptions as Normand and A.J. Flemister each picked off passes. Aderick Moore led the Golden Eagles with 12 tackles, while Deontay Wilson had nine and Normand stopped eight.
"Getting those turnovers was huge," Satterfield said. "When you get one, then it's like, 'Oh, we can do this.' That's because they run to the football, it's because we're ripping at the ball while we're gang-tackling. They're living up to our brand. It was really fun to see today, but we can't accept losing or be proud that we lost a game. Still, it's something we can build on as we start conference play. If we keep getting better, I can't wait to look up at the scoreboard at the end of the season."
In addition to Goldsmith's 64 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, Yeedee Thaenrat looked fresh following his injury against Kennesaw State, rushing for 62 yards on nine carries. Byrd caught seven passes for 93 yards, while Goldsmith had two catches for 57 yards
For Ball State (2-1), Neal threw for 238 yards on 23-for-31 passing, including touchdown strikes to Justin Hall, Nolan Givan and James Gilbert. Hall had seven catches for 82 yards, while Gilbert rushed for 92 yards on 11 carries.
The Golden Eagles return to action on Saturday as they open Ohio Valley Conference play at Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
"Tomorrow, we work on us," Satterfield said. "We reset and start the process over and see who can do it the best. If we get up every day and defend it and live it and we do it the right way, we've got a chance to go and compete on Saturday. The kids are going to be ready to get back at it tomorrow."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information