By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's hard to believe it's been 12 years since Tennessee Tech last faced Samford on the gridiron.
It was a completely different scenario then – the Golden Eagles were 32 years removed since their previous Ohio Valley Conference championship (Tech later broke its drought four years later) and both teams were under the direction of new coaches (Watson Brown for the Golden Eagles facing long-time assistant Pat Sullivan across the way – who went on to become Samford's all-time winningest head coach).
Now, Dewayne Alexander enters his second year at the helm of the Tennessee Tech program, while a familiar foe comes into Tucker Stadium leading Samford as former Murray State skipper Chris Hatcher enters his fifth campaign as the Bulldogs' top dog.
Tech will open its 98th football campaign Saturday night at 6 p.m. from Tucker Stadium.
Dylan Vazzano and Sam Brooks will handle broadcast duties on ESPN+ (subscription required), while Roger Ealey and Buddy Pearson will break down the game on radio on 98.5 KISS FM.
While it'll be the first outing of the season for the Golden Eagles, it'll be the second game of the season for the Bulldogs, coming off a 45-22 loss last week in a neutral-site matchup against Youngstown State in Montgomery, Ala.
Samford was plagued with four turnovers in the contest – three interceptions and a lost fumble returned for a touchdown – while also only holding on to the ball for 18:33 to the Penguins' 41:27. The Bulldogs were also held to just under three yards a carry, going 60 yards on 24 totes. The bulk of Samford's offensive attack came on 267 yards on 20-of-32 passing.
In addition to the fumble recovery for a YSU score, the second interception led to a 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive for the Penguins.
Starter Liam Welch threw for 142 yards on 13-of-22 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions, while he was also sacked twice. Chris Oladokun, a South Florida transfer, threw for 125 yards on 7-of-10 passing, collecting a score along the way in the fourth quarter. Oladokun also rushed for Samford's lone touchdown on the ground.
The Bulldogs did get double-digit tackles from John Staton and Jaleel Laguins, while Samford also recorded six tackles for loss for 27 total yards. But the tackle differential is a bit skewed with Youngstown State running nearly 30 more plays than the Bulldogs, 82 to 56.
The Golden Eagles are 10-12 all-time against Samford, 2-3 during the Bulldogs' membership in the OVC.
Meanwhile, it's proving day for the Golden Eagles as the squad looks to show what they've learned during fall camp and shake off its second consecutive 1-10 campaign.
While there are plenty of veterans returning for another tour of duty for the Tech team, the two-deep Is peppered with a bunch of new faces, ready to make their mark.
Sophomore quarterback Bailey Fisher returns, looking to improve on a season where he was a finalist for the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award, honoring the Football Championship Subdivision's top freshman. He'll have returnees R.D. Ford, Seth Huner, Hunter Coleman and Darrius Stafford to throw to, as well as Austin Hicks, who transferred back to Tech and is available after sitting out the 2018 campaign. Notable freshman wideouts on the two-deep include Justin Oden, ranked the No. 4 receiving prospect in the FCS by HERO Sports, and Metrius Fleming, a hard-working receiver that has impressed in practice after putting up tremendous numbers in the prep level.
Tech's rushing attack returns some familiar names in Andrew Goldsmith and David Gist, while John Jones has impressed the Golden Eagle staff enough during the summer to earn a spot among the front lines.
Up front, the Golden Eagles added plenty of size with the additions of Miami (Ohio) graduate transfer Ian Leever (6-6, 293), sophomore transfer Spencer Stachyra (6-4, 301) and freshman Ellis Adams (6-4, 352). Those newcomers will bolster a steadily improving group that is primed to help Tech produce big numbers on offense.
Defensively, Tech lost three of its top five tacklers, but have strengthened over the offseason with several additions. The Golden Eagles host an experienced defensive line, augmented by the addition of Citrus College transfer Henry Karimu, helping the unit of Chris Tucker, Jale'n Gladney and Xavier Schlueter take care of business on the front.
At linebacker, senior Aderick Moore is back to full strength after an injury slowed him down last season. He'll be backed up by Golden Eagle legacy Jack Warwick, following in the footsteps of brother Jake and grandfather Lonnie. In the other LB spot, a pair of high school quarterbacks turned linebackers stand ready to stop all comers as Seth Carlisle and Heath Price hold court.
In the secondary, Shannon Fayne and Dami Adekunjo provide leadership for the pass protectors. There are several returnees there, but newcomers Josh Reliford and Cameron Hudson could make impacts as well.
On the special teams unit, things are definitely a little different than in years past. Gone is Nick Madonia, so Haidar Zaidan will slip into the field goal kicker's shoes in addition to his normal kickoff duties. Blake Alberts and Luke Maynard will handle punts, while Carter and Gist are penciled in as the punt and kickoff returners.
The KISS 98.5 FM Tailgate Park will open up at 3 p.m. outside Tucker Stadium, with the Eagle Walk slated to begin at 3:45 p.m. Performing on the pre-game concert stage in the Tailgate Park this weekend is local Americana/Alt-rock act Calm & Commotion.
Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale now through the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office, TTUsports.com, by calling (931) 372-3940 or at the Tucker Stadium ticket booths on game day. Season tickets are also available for the 2019 home slate.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information