By KEVIN WEAKS
Three good quarters were erased by two big plays.
Eastern Kentucky used two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to overcome a deficit and beat UT Martin 28-16 in a key early-season Ohio Valley Conference showdown Saturday at Graham Stadium.
With a late-morning kickoff so the game could be televised by Fox College Sports, the Skyhawks woke up first, leading most of the first three quarters and ahead by as many as nine, 16-7, at one pint.
But, the Colonels, ranked 19th in The Sports Network/Fathead.com and FCS Coaches polls coming into the game, caught UTM napping twice in the final quarter to take the lead and then put the game away.
“We had the lead, but they kept playing and kept at it,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson said. “They took the lead, and we couldn’t get it back.”
UTM drops to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the OVC and will celebrate homecoming this weekend against Eastern Illinois, Saturday’s kickoff set for 2 p.m.
“It’s not the end of our season,” Simpson said. “We’re 1-1 in our conference, we all have six games left and we have a great team coming in here next week. So, we can pout and be upset the rest of the day. But, come tomorrow we better start getting ready.
“You have to win your games at home, so we have to hold serve next week.”
To hold serve, UT Martin will have to get Eastern Illinois’ offense off the field. That simply didn’t happen enough against Eastern Kentucky.
The Colonels converted 13-of-23 third-down tries, no two bigger than the fourth-quarter touchdowns that turned a solid Skyhawk effort into a disappointing finish.
“It was two good OVC teams out there,” Simpson said. “The difference was third downs for them. They converted 13-of-23. We only gave up 282 yards, but I’m disappointed about that. I don’t care how good we were on defense, I’m ticked off about that, and our players should be, too. We have to coach better and execute better on third downs.
“They executed on third down, and their defense kept us at bay.”
The biggest of those conversions came in the fourth period, after Eastern had already begun to steal away momentum by pulling within 16-14.
Backed up at their own 22 following an illegal block penalty and facing a 3rd-and-21, the Colonels converted in a big way when Tyrone Goard pulled in a pass from T.J. Pryor and raced past the Skyhawk sideline for a 78-yard scoring play with 8:57 to play in the game.
UTM’s ensuing drive ended with a special teams blunder as punter James Satterfield was tackled for a 10-yard loss resulting from a misplayed snap.
EKU took advantage, again converted on third down when Pryor and Goard hooked up again, this time for 27 yards with 6:02 remaining.
Forced to throw, UTM could only do enough to get Derek Carr the school’s career passing record but nothing else as the Skyhawks failed to score on two more chances
“When you’re playing scramble football like that, maybe once in 20 times will you score and get the ball back,” Simpson said. “The game got away from us in the fourth quarter. We had them in Cover 2 and let them score, and then in man coverage again, and they beat us again.”
Carr now has 6,300 career passing yards, moving past both Brady Wahlberg (6,247) and Cade Thompson (6,260) as the school’s all-time leader in that category.
“He’ll tell you that he’d rather take the win,” Simpson said. “There are a lot of wide receivers who should feel good about the record. When you play that long, it’s because there’s nobody better than you. You’re out-performing everybody, and we couldn’t out-recruit you. And, we’ve won more than we’ve lost around here, so he’s done a good job with that. We just have to help him more, and we didn’t do that today.”
Goard’s single-game record, however, turned out to be more important, the 6-4 senior wide receiver setting a new EKU mark with four TD catches.
He pulled down a 14-yard catch from Pryor for a go-ahead touchdown at 13:23 of the second quarter, giving the Colonels a 7-6 lead. Then, his 25-yard catch from Jared McClain at 2:31 of the third — coming on a third down, pulled the Colonels within 16-14.
Goard finished with seven catches for 175 yards.
The Skyhawks got off to a fast start, scoring on their first possession on a Jason McNair four-yard run with 7:32 to play in the first quarter.
The point-after was blocked, leading to EKU’s go-ahead TD early in the second frame, but UT Martin took a 13-7 halftime lead as Trent Garland powered over from a yard out with 2:11 to play in the second. Cody Sandlin then hit a 31-yard field goal with 5:10 to play in the third quarter for a 16-7 lead.
The Skyhawk offense was virtually non-existent from that point on, however. UTM gained just 61 more yards on 22 plays, punting three times and losing possession on downs twice.
UTM running back Tevin Barksdale was injured in the third quarter and was taken from the stadium in an ambulance. The move was precautionary as he reportedly was moving all of his extremities on the field before being taken off on a stretcher.
Published in The Messenger 10.1.12