By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – With the way Nick Madonia was kicking the ball on Saturday, there was no doubt that he was the player that head coach Marcus Satterfield wanted in the potential game-winning situation.
There were just 10.2 seconds remaining. Madonia was lined up to attempt a 49-yard field goal.
Surely, it was nothing – he had already kicked a 51-yarder into the wind earlier to try to keep the Tennessee Tech football team on top.
As his kick sailed into the air, it certainly had the distance.
Unfortunately, it had just sailed to the right.
The missed kick allowed Eastern Illinois to complete its rally, knocking off the Golden Eagles 24-23 on Saturday night in Charleston.
"It was tough," Satterfield said. "I told them in our team meeting last night that you're going to jump out on them, you're just as good or better than this team, we're going to be up by two touchdowns like we were last year. Our guys have played against tough schedules and tough teams. They don't know what it's like to do what they did early on and are they going to have the courage to finish the game off? There were a couple of situations that we didn't handle well and we have to finish the game.
"It's mixed emotions. I'm heartbroken for the kids. But still, we did so much to lose this game. We can't get out of our own way."
The loss drops the Golden Eagles to 0-6 on the season, matching its worst start since 1991. Tech falls to 0-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play.
Tech led 14-0 as the Golden Eagles got rushing touchdowns from Yeedee Thaenrat (six yards) and Adam Browner (two yards) – and that was the last touchdowns the Golden Eagles switched into field goal mode.
Madonia hit a 51- and a 32-yarder in the third quarter, as Tech tried to stay on top.
However, the Panthers had other plans. Switching to quarterback Bud Martin in the second half, the redshirt junior and Florida International transfer – in his first action of the season at that – put on a show with receiver Alexander Hollins. The duo connected for three touchdowns as Hollins caught five passes for 125 yards. Martin ended the night with an efficient 10-for-14 passing with 204 yards.
Tech's offensive numbers were solid. Andrew Goldsmith rushed for 121 yards on 16 carries – the most for a Golden Eagle rusher since Thaenrat rushed for 164 last season at Tennessee State. Dontez Byrd caught 10 passes for 126 yards – his seventh 100-plus yard game of his Tech career. Sale ended the game with 17-for-29 passing with 187 yards.
However, it probably shouldn't have come down to the field goal try.
The Golden Eagle defense held the Panthers and a short punt gave Tech the ball back at the EIU 38. However, back-to-back-to-back losses on Sale pushed the Golden Eagles back and returned the ball to the Panthers.
"We got a chance before that even started," Satterfield said. "We had it on the 38 and we take sack and another sack and another. It's just tough."
Yet, Tech was able to get another stop – this time with 1:49 remaining in the contest. But Sale threw a pass to Thaenrat and it was stripped, giving the ball again to the Panthers.
But the Golden Eagle defense persevered. Again, Tech made a stop, keeping the time running off the clock at a minimum – and once again, the Golden Eagles had the ball again.
Sale quickly completed two passes to Byrd, spiking the ball in between to stop the clock. That set up the final attempt – a situation that should have been in Tech's favor, but the kick sailed to the right.
"He had some great kicks tonight and did exactly what we asked him to do," Satterfield said. "Just before the half, we had him kick one out of bounds and told him we didn't care if he did, because we didn't want them to return it.
"I wish he could have made that one for his confidence. He's a really good kicker and he's struggling this year. There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to kick it. It was going to be close anyway."
The Golden Eagles return to action on Saturday as they travel to Cape Girardeau, Mo., to take on Southeast Missouri. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information