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UTM keeps head above water in quest for postseason berth

UTM keeps head above water in quest for postseason berth
UTM keeps head above water in quest for postseason berth

The rain drops fall as UT Martin’s Cade Thompson looks to the sideline for a play call during the Skyhawks’ win on Thursday.
A little rain never hurt anybody.
Affected little by a game-long steady shower, UT Martin continued its quest for a postseason playoff berth by knocking off 20th-ranked Jacksonville State 31-30 Thursday night at Graham Stadium.
Played before a few hundred brave souls and a national television audience on ESPNU, the Skyhawks (7-2, 5-1) cemented their spot near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference standings by taking over sole possession of second place behind league-leading Tennessee State.
Hopeful of a playoff invitation as an at-large team — if not the OVC champion — UTM took a giant step toward that goal by playing turnover-free football against a quality Gamecock club, despite the less-than-ideal elements.
“Cade (Thompson) and our center (Tyler DeJarnette) really did a good job of taking care of the ball,” UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson confirmed afterward. “Things got a little hairy there at the end as we were down to just one running back and he was gassed, but we never did turn it over and that was a huge key.”
Tennessee-Martin quarterback Cade Thompson threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns — both to Ole Miss transfer Mike Hicks — and University of Memphis transplant Miguel Barnes became the third Skyhawk running back this season to gain 100 yards in a game with 117 and a TD.
A JSU missed extra-point, however, proved to be the difference between the two clubs that combined for 933 yards with neither turning the ball over.
Gamecock placement man Gavin Hallford, who earlier in the game became the OVC’s all-time leading scorer for a kicker, pushed a PAT wide right following Ryan Perrilloux’s second touchdown pass of the game with 4:38 to play after Jacksonville had drawn to within 31-30 with the TD.
The errant kick was Hallford’s first this season and broke a string of 39 straight successful PATs.
There were four lead changes in the contest that got off to a rousing start when UTM’s Roren Thomas jetted 85 yards for a touchdown on an end-around on the game’s second snap.
JSU responded with scores on its first two possessions to go up 10-7, before the Skyhawks answered that with all nine second-quarter points tallied — a safety and a 40-yard TD pass from Thompson to Hicks — to take a 16-10 halftime lead.
The Gamecocks struck for a pair of TDs in the first five minutes of the third quarter to go back up.
Perrilloux, the much-celebrated signal-caller who was kicked off the LSU team after helping the Tigers to the national championship last season, accounted for the second of those touchdowns when he hit Eric Johns with a 12-yard scoring toss.
Perrilloux hit on 14-of-29 passes for 261 yards and also rushed for 53 yards on 10 carries.
UT Martin, however, came right back with Barnes ripping off a pair of big-gainers before diving into the endzone from the one. Then, Thomas first juggled and then snagged an ensuing two-point conversion toss from Thompson that evened things up at 24-all halfway through the third period.
The Skyhawks broke that deadlock with 11:44 to play when Thompson and Hicks hooked up again, this time on a 4-yard TD connection. A critical 33-yard hookup between Thompson and Linzy Patterson and a 20-yard pass play to Thomas on third down were both critical in the six-play, 73-yard scoring drive.
After UTM failed to pad its lead to 10 points when Tom Hansen missed his second field goal of the contest — a 30-yarder with 5:47 to play — it took the Alabama visitors just three plays to move yards with the aforementioned 66-yard touchdown pass from Perrilloux to Wilkerson the capper and obvious highlight.
Hallford’s missed point-after, though, left the Skyhawks with the smallest lead possible.
UTM kept the ball for 4:04 of the final 4:27 and two Hail-Mary Perrilloux passes fell incomplete.
“The big thing in the big picture is that it keeps us in control of our own destiny, I believe,” Simpson added. “We’re going to enjoy this win, take the weekend off, then start getting ready for Auburn and then our last two conference games.”
The Skyhawks will enjoy a 15-day break before playing at Auburn on Nov. 8. The struggling Tigers fell to 4-4 after Thursday’s 34-17 loss at West Virginia, and will play SEC rival Ole Miss before hosting UTM.
GAME NOTES — UT Martin sports information director Joe Lofaro said he issued 123 media credentials for the game, a believed-to-be record for any athletic event at the school. The ESPN crew accounted for 40 of those passes, and there was a special tent sent up for media overflow. … Barnes joined teammates Brandyn Young and Daryl Bourne in the Skyhawks’ 100-yard rushing fraternity this season. He shouldered most of the running load by himself after Young rolled his ankle and did not play the second half after gaining 31 yards on nine carries. … Linebacker Brent Acker led the UTM defense with 13 tackles, while interior lineman Ray Williams was in on 10 strops.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at

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