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Turnovers prevent Skyhawks from thrilling record crowd

Turnovers prevent Skyhawks from thrilling record crowd
Turnovers prevent Skyhawks from thrilling record crowd

Tennessee State’s Javarris Williams is taken down by UT Martin’s Markei Guy during the Skyhawks’ overtime loss Saturday.
UT Martin’s defense held up its end of the deal against the second-best offense in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Unfortunately, the Skyhawks’ No. 1-ranked offense didn’t.
Tennessee State benefited from four UTM turnovers, and the Tigers took over first place in the OVC with a 30-27 overtime victory over Tennessee-Martin before a record homecoming crowd of more than 7,500 Saturday afternoon.
Javarris Williams ran 11 yards for the game-deciding points in OT for TSU, which now sits atop the league standings with a 2-0 conference record and a 5-1 overall mark. The deflating loss was UTM’s first in OVC play (2-1) and second in six games all totaled.
Williams ran for 163 yards — his 17th career 100-yard rushing game — and the Tigers converted three of Tennessee-Martin’s four turnovers into points.
The expected shootout between the league’s two most prolific offenses never materialized as each team’s defense was both opportunistic and, at times, dominating.
The offenses, however, never lived up to their respective billings.
UTM, which entered the contest averaging over 48 points-per-game and nearly 440 total yards, managed just half of that point total during regulation and but 279 yards of offense.
Quarterback Cade Thompson, the league’s top signal-caller in passing efficiency, completed just 14-of-28 for 146 yards and had two interceptions that led to 10 Tennessee State points in the third quarter that erased a 17-7 Skyhawk lead.
Tied at 24 entering the extra session, UT Martin had to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Tom Hansen because it was unable to move the chains. The Tigers followed with Williams’ scoring burst that followed a 14-yard first-down gainer.
“This one’s on me,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson said afterward. “I felt like beforehand if we could get the kind of effort defensively that we ended up getting, we’d win.
“When you turn the ball over four times, though, with two interceptions and two fumbles, you’re not going to beat good teams. That’s what happened today.”
The loss spoiled a stellar effort by the Skyhawk defense, which put the clamps on the OVC’s total offense leader, Tennessee State quarterback Antonio Heffner.
Heffner, who ranked fifth nationally coming in while accounting for more than 313 yards-per-game, was limited to just 149 total yards by an aggressive, gang-tackling UTM unit. Like Thompson, Heffner also was responsible for a pair of turnovers that led directly to Tennessee-Martin points.
The Skyhawks made eight tackles for lost yardage, sacked Heffner four times and got a number of bell-ringing hits, led by linebacker Josh Bey, who had eight tackles in all.
Reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Week Dontrell Miller picked off Heffner and skipped 25 yards for a touchdown, while a Heffner fumble turned into a 23-yard Hansen field goal to give UTM a 10-point halftime lead.
The TD was Miller’s fifth defensive score of the season and third of the last two weeks. He won the OVC’s top defensive honor for returning both an interception and a fumble for touchdowns against Murray State.
However, Thompson returned the favor with a pair of third-quarter interceptions that Tennessee State translated into points.
Heffner’s 10-yard QB keeper for a touchdown narrowed the gap to 17-14 after first turnover, and Williams’ 55-yard jaunt set up Eric Benson’s 20-yard field goal that tied things up with 21/2 minutes left in the period.
Both clubs mounted long, time-consuming TD marches in the fourth quarter to end regulation tied at 24.
UTM moved 71 yards in 13 plays, the sequence capped by Brandyn Young’s two-yard TD dive. The Tigers countered with a 77-yard, 15-play series with Heffner, who threw for 13 yards to the Skyhawk three to tight-end James French on 3rd-and-seven, finally sneaking in from the one with four minutes left.
The Skyhawks will have little time to recover from the loss as they’re back in action Thursday night at 6 against Eastern Illinois.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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