Skyhawks don’t let Jax State catch up

Skyhawks don’t let Jax State catch up
Skyhawks don’t let Jax State catch up | Skyhawks don’t let Jax State catch up
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Ironically, in a game in which both UT Martin’s Quentin Sims and Alan Bonner of Jacksonville State posted spectacular record-tying and breaking receiving numbers, it was a pass that went incomplete that has the Skyhawks atop the Ohio Valley Conference.
A game-tying two-point conversion toss to Bonner with 41 seconds to play was caught — but correctly ruled out of bounds in the back of the endzone — allowing UTM to hold off the Gamecocks 49-47 in a wild shootout Saturday afternoon at Graham Stadium.
The victory was the Skyhawks’ fourth straight  but, more importantly, fifth in sixth league games and has them in first place in the OVC with two regular season games remaining. UT Martin is 7-2 in all games and actually tied with Eastern Illinois (6-3, 5-1) atop the league standings, but holds an edge over the Panthers via a 51-37 head-to-head win on Oct. 6.
The Skyhawks — who won their only other Ohio Valley Conference football championship in 2006 — got some help in that quest from regional-rival Murray State Saturday when the Racers upset tri-leader Tennessee State 49-28.
UTM and TSU play in the regular season finale Nov. 17, after the Skyhawks visit Tennessee Tech (2-7, 0-6) this week.
“I’m obviously very excited about the win and proud of our kids that they kept fighting,” a drained Skyhawk head coach Jason Simpson said after Saturday’s offensive bonanza that produced 1,121 yards, 64 first downs, 14 touchdowns — and no turnovers — between the two teams. “The game seemed like it was going in the same cycle as last year when we led most of the game and then they scored late and won.
“That and the other close games that we lost last season was our focus, though, in the offseason. That (JSU) was the defending conference champion, and when you’ve got a chance to beat them, you better do it.”
Sims and Bonner both caught five touchdown passes Saturday — each tying the OVC single-game mark in that category. Sims, the Georgia Tech transfer who set a school record (19) with his first TD grab, also tied Bobby Fowler’s  UTM mark for most touchdowns in a game, one established in 1957.
He started the scoring with a nine-yard TD pass from Derek Carr and also reached the endzone after snagging Carr aerials covering 8, 33, 16 and 8 yards while ending up with nine catches for 125 yards in all.
Carr, who became UT Martin’s all-time leading passer earlier this season, tied his own record set earlier this year vs. Murray State with seven touchdown passes in the contest. He completed 28-of-43 attempts all totaled for 404 yards with no interceptions, also hooking up with Kevin Barfield (38 yards) and Jeremy Butler (4 yards) for scores.
It marked the third time this season Carr had thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.
Bonner, meanwhile, matched Sims’ TD total and actually had better overall numbers with 10 grabs for 235 yards that marked the second-best such performance by a receiver in JSU history. Gamecock QB Marques Ivory was only slightly behind UT Martin’s Carr statistically, throwing for 323 yards and six TDs, including scoring plays to Bonner that went for 66, 15, 34, 35 and 12 yards.
Bonner was the target, too, on the aforementioned two-point play that would’ve forged a last-minute tie following Washaun Ealey’s two-yard scoring run, but could not get a foot down when the pressured Ivory had to roll right out of the pocket and threw high to the back of the end line.
“Every week all coaches put the two-point play on their call sheet and hope they don’t have to lose it,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson said afterward. “We really didn’t play it right, and were very fortunate to make their quarterback bubble out and force the receiver to the back of the endzone. The missed extra-point they had forced them to have to go for two and was huge.”
UTM was seemingly on its way to a blowout victory early, bolting to a 28-7 first quarter lead when Carr hooked up three times with Sims and another with Barfield for scores in a period in which the Skyhawks ran up and down the field to the tune of 285 total yards on 28 offensive snaps.
The Gamecocks got within 35-21 at the half though, on two Ivory TD tosses and drew within a made-PAT of tying the game with 13:48 to play when Bonner made easily the best catch of the day — a one-handed snag of a 12-yard touchdown aerial that made it 42-41. Thomas Griffin’s ensuing extra-point though, was altered by a freshening wind and wide right, leaving UTM in front.
Carr’s final TD pass went to Butler and capped a 15-play, 88-yard drive with Cody Sandlin’s PAT making it an eight-point game with 5:31 to go.
“We don’t have the fastest receivers, but ours are bigger, stronger and older than they have been and they just go make plays,” Simpson said of Sims and Butler (7-74). “That’s a good secondary they did that against today, one that had held some big-numbered passing teams in our league to 200 yards and had eight picks. Our senior quarterback played well, and our offensive line did a good job.
“We just go on to another week now and just continue our destiny. Tennessee Tech has the best receiver in the league (University of Tennessee transfer Da’Rick Rogers) and it’ll be tough. It’ll be just like the other nine games.”
Somewhat lost in the explosive-play highlights was a 120-yard rushing effort by UTM’s Tevin Barksdale, and a 17-tackle performance defensively by linebacker Ben Johnson.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 11.5.12

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