UTM defense stifles Panthers for first football win

UTM defense stifles Panthers for first football win
UTM defense stifles Panthers for first football win

Out in Front — Skyhawk running back Jason McNair (front) finds himself at the front of the pack en route to a big gain during UT Martin’s 20-10 win over OVC foe Eastern Illinois on Saturday night. Photo courtesy UT Martin Sports Information
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team (1-2, 1-0 OVC) opened the home portion of its schedule with a convincing 20-10 victory over Eastern Illinois (0-3, 0-1 OVC) Saturday night at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
The win marked the fourth consecutive time the Skyhawks have defeated the Panthers in Martin.
Sophomores Jason McNair and Tevin Barksdale scored touchdowns, while Cody Sandlin kicked two field goals as the Skyhawks came from behind for their first victory of the season.
While the offensive prowess of McNair and Barksdale running the ball thrilled the Skyhawk faithful, it was the tenacious Skyhawk defense that dominated the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams. The Skyhawks limited the Panthers to 222 yards of total offense, 84 yards of rushing and 138 yards of passing.
“I am very proud of our defense,” UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson said. “It’s not always the prettiest, and it may not be three-and-out. We’re not the biggest nor are we the fastest, but our defensive staff gets the most out of our guys. The staff has a good time working with the kids and our kids are playing hard and executing well,” Simpson said.
The UT Martin defense made its presence known early in the game, forcing the Panthers to punt on their first possession. The Skyhawks limited the Panthers to 65 yards of offense on 11 plays. EIU managed to take advantage of a Skyhawk turnover and took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Skyhawks countered in the second quarter when sophomore Jason McNair ran 68 yards for a TD. McNair turned in his second consecutive game with more than 100 rushing yards. He rushed 15 times for 130 yards against the Panthers. McNair also caught five passes in the win.
“I was proud of Jason,” Simpson said. “Any time you can gain over a hundred yards I don’t care if it’s on one carry or on 25 as he had. He gives us a chance to win.”
EIU took a 10-7 lead with 5:58 to play in the first half when Cameron Berra kicked a 27-yard field goal.
Barksdale put the Skyhawks on top for good when he raced 49 yards on second-and-two just before the half. Barksdale had five carries for 75 yards in the game.
The Skyhawk defense took charge in the second half by shutting out the Panthers. EIU managed to get 69 total yards of offense in the second half, including 19 yards of rushing and 50 yards of passing.
Redshirt sophomore Darrin Nalls had five total tackles in the game, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles for UT Martin. Both forced fumbles were in the fourth quarter. The first forced fumble led to a 26-yard field goal by sophomore Cody Sandlin. It was Sandlin’s second field goal of the game.
“When you have confidence in your kicker, you take care of the ball a little more, you’re not as risky,” Simpson said. With eight points in the game, Sandlin has emerged as the Skyhawks’ leading scorer after three games.
Senior Josh Bey and junior college transfer CJ Estelle had six solo tackles and eight total tackles each to lead the Skyhawk defense. The Skyhawks recorded four sacks and eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a total loss of 27 yards.
The Skyhawks return to action Saturday, Sept. 25 when they play at Murray State. Kickoff is set for 6 that evening.

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