Football falls to UT Martin in first OVC loss

Quarterback Jared Davis hands the ball to senior running back Ladarius Vanlier. Davis finished with under 100 yards passing for the first time this season while Vanlier passed the century mark rushing for the first time this season finishing with 118 yards on the ground. Photo: Shea Haile

Rain and wind made for some ugly football Saturday night at Tucker Stadium, and the Golden Eagles’ performance in the 31-17 loss to conference rival UT Martin made things even uglier.

The Skyhawks controlled possession for nearly two-thirds of the game, while putting up 476 yards of total offense and forcing eight sacks on defense.

“We got exposed (Saturday), and (UTM) deserved to win the game, but it was one of the worst games we’ve played,” said Tech head coach Watson Brown. “We didn’t expect this. We just played awful. We didn’t make any plays, didn’t execute well. Things happened that haven’t happened in the first four games.”

Skyhawks quarterback Jarod Neal picked apart the home defense throughout the night, beginning with two quick passing scores in the first 10 minutes. Tech QB Jared Davis didn’t exactly mirror Neal’s performance, especially not in his first two series, but he was able to bounce back from a sack and interception and create some rhythm on touchdown passes of 20 and 8 yards to receiver Brock McCoin to tie the score at 14-14 before the end of the first quarter.

Trailing by 11 after two more Neal TD passes, the Golden Eagles gathered a surge at the start of the fourth quarter on a 67-yard score from senior Ladarius Vanlier, but the burst was brought back after a holding call negated the score.

UTM notched the final score on an early fourth-quarter field goal, controlled the game clock and line of scrimmage and left Cookeville after handing Tech its first home and OVC loss of the season.

“It was surprising to me that we would play that poorly,” added Brown. “We all are. I think the kids are. The epitome of the game, here it is we get back within a touchdown and have a (67-yard) touchdown run, and we hold and bring it back. Even when there was a good play, we seemed to mess it up.”

Davis struggled in the contest, passing 8-of-34 for 76 yards, with negative rushing numbers after being sacked eight times. Vanlier led the Golden Eagles with 118 rushing yards on nine carries, while Brock McCoin led receivers with 69 yards and two TDs on six catches. Senior linebacker Tra’Darius Goff completed another career game with a season-high 18 tackles.

The Golden Eagles (2-3, 1-1 OVC) face a quick turnaround this week, as they travel to Eastern Kentucky (2-2, 1-0) in a Oct. 8, 6 p.m. CDT kickoff with the Colonels, who are coming off a near overtime upset of the Kentucky Wildcats last weekend.

“This is the stretch,” said Brown on Saturday. “Now we have a game in five days. The team has to understand where they are and just keep fighting their butts off. And I think they will. I really do. They’re disappointed, but if they weren’t disappointed, I’d be in real trouble.”