MARTIN, Tenn. – A stout defensive effort from the nation’s No. 1 ranked unit helped the Tennessee State football team defeat UT Martin, 29-15, on Saturday.
The Tigers (7-1, 4-0 OVC) only allowed 4.1 yards per play, recorded 12 tackles for loss (five sacks), tallied two takeaways and forced 19 Skyhawk penalties.
Freshman quarterback Ronald Butler led the offense, completing 11-of-19 for 160 yards and one touchdown. Junior Ryan Mitchell was Butler’s favorite target, as the receiver caught five passes for 84 yards and a score.
The contest started with five straight three-and-outs in which the teams combined for a total of two yards. On TSU’s third drive, Butler completed a 33-yard pass to Lavatiae Kelly, but the big play only led to another Tiger punt.
After forcing the Skyhawk offense of the field, TSU finally struck pay dirt with its first play of its fourth series as Butler found Mitchell on a crossing route. A good play-action sucked the UT Martin (4-3, 2-2 OVC) safeties towards the line of scrimmage, and Mitchell was a few steps passed his defender when he caught the ball at the opposing 40-yard line. From there, Mitchell did the rest, beating his man further for the score.
The pass and catch totaled 61 yards and Jamin Godfrey’s point after put TSU up, 7-0, with two minutes to go in the first quarter.
UT Martin’s offense responded on the next drive by moving the ball all the way down to the TSU 31 yard-line. D.J. McNeal fumbled on the ensuing play, and Nick Thrasher recovered, giving the Big Blue offense possession. The takeaway brought the first quarter to a close with the Tigers up by a touchdown.
The Tiger defense held the Skyhawks to 58 yards of total offense during the first 15 minutes. UT Martin quarterback Jarod Neal was just 2-of-6 for 12 yards and the Skyhawks committed six penalties for 30 yards.
Early in the second period, a fake punt from UT Martin sprung punter James Satterfield for a 21-yard gain – UT Martin’s longest of the game up to that point. The Skyhawks used short passes to ultimately set up a 40-yard field goal attempt. However, TSU’s Anthony Bass blocked the attempt and De’Ante Saunders returned the ball 54 yards for a Tiger touchdown.
The great play on special teams put Tennessee State in the driver’s seat, 14-0, with just over 10 minutes to go before halftime.
The Tigers struck again two plays later as Daniel Fitzpatrick picked off Neal at the 20-yard line and waltzed into the end zone untouched for TSU’s third touchdown of the game.
The interception was Fitzpatrick’s fifth this season and fourth in TSU’s last three games. He is now the FCS leader in interceptions.
The Big Blue defense came up with another key play on UT Martin’s next offensive possession. After two straight negative plays, Bass and Shipley wrapped up Skyhawk running back McNeal in the end zone for a safety. The score was TSU’s 23 point in a nine-minute and four seconds span.
UT Martin had one final chance to score before halftime, but a 68-yard drive yielded zero points, as the clock expired before the Skyhawks could attempt a 25-yard field goal.
The Tiger defense had eight tackles for loss in the first half, three of which were quarterback sacks.
TSU went three-and-out to start the third quarter and UT Martin took advantage with a 10-play, 49-yard scoring drive. Neal found Jeremy Butler on a fade route from 11-yards away to make the score, 23-7, in favor of the Tigers with six minutes gone in the second half.
Tennessee State could not answer on its next series, and was forced to punt. Martin bowled into Leon Holderhead, causing a running into the kicker penalty. On Holderhead’s next attempt, Jeremy Butler fumbled the kick and TSU’s Martine Stevenson recovered at the UT Martin 28-yard line.
The heads-up special teams play set up a 44-yard field goal from Godfery, putting TSU on top, 26-7, with under four minutes to play in the third.
Back-to-back sacks halted UT Martin’s next drive, and the Tigers took over on their own 15-yard line to begin the fourth. Butler engineered an 11-play, 82-yard drive that was aided by a 23-yard run from Broughton to set up a field goal attempt. Godfrey’s kick was deflected, but still went through the uprights from 20-yards away to put Big Blue in front, 29-7.
Broughton, who came into the game as the OVC’s leading rusher, finished the day with 86 yards on 22 carries for a 3.9 average.
The Skyhawks added a late touchdown when running back Trent Garland scored from two-yards out at the 1:33 mark. Garland then added the two-point conversion to make the final score, 29-15.
Tennessee State will go for its eighth straight win on Oct. 26 against No. 3 ranked Eastern Illinois for homecoming. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at LP Field.