By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – It's been eight years since the Tennessee Tech football team has been in this position – four wins, one loss.
That year, Tech opened the season with a 34-7 loss at Iowa, then fired off four consecutive wins, topping Maryville College and Southeast Missouri at home, then Eastern Illinois and UT Martin on the road. However, Tennessee State snapped the string with a 42-40 decision.
The 2011 Golden Eagles, however, didn't stay down long – they knocked off Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky on the road to help secure an Ohio Valley Conference championship and automatic berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
But that was eight years ago. Not to sell the 2019 Golden Eagles short, but there's still a lot of games left to play, including a trip to Southeast Missouri (2-2, 0-0 OVC) on Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (subscription required) with Erik Sean, Rick Wieser and Rusty Hendricks providing the call. Roger Ealey and Dylan Vazzano will call the game on 98.5 KISS FM.
The 2019 Golden Eagles have started off strong, but certainly aren't resting on any laurels yet as there are so many things left to prove. The 4-1 start, anchored by the double-overtime win over Samford, as well as three straight wins over Virginia-Wise, Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois, is only just the beginning.
Tech (4-1, 1-0 OVC) has not started 5-1 since the 1999 campaign, a season where the Golden Eagles started strong, then fell in the final four contests of the season to finish 5-5. In Tech's 98 seasons of play, including the current campaign, the Golden Eagles have started 4-1 or better 18 times. Of the 12 seasons with exactly a 4-1 start, five of those – 1953, 1955, 1960, 1972 and 2011 – ended with Tech hoisting an OVC trophy.
It is, however, too early to start thinking about raising any championship trophies as the Golden Eagles will only see the schedule get more challenging as the weeks pass by.
The Redhawks have won three of the last four meetings in the series, winning the last two games by the combined score of 101-41. Last season's game in Cookeville was a 70-38 defeat as Southeast Missouri edged the all-time series closer to 15-12 in favor of the Golden Eagles.
In that contest, David Gist rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, the last time a Tech running back has broken the century mark. Bailey Fisher also had his second 200-plus passing yard game, throwing for 264 yards and two touchdowns, including an 85-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Stafford – the third-longest pass completion in school history.
On the flipside, Northern Illinois transfer quarterback Daniel Santacaterina threw for four touchdowns and 395 yards as he completed 20 of his 27 passes. Two receivers finished with more than 100 yards in the contest.
However, the way the Tech team has played this year hasn't resembled the past season. Defensively, the Golden Eagles have allowed 83 fewer points through five games and 853 fewer yards of total offense, while also forcing 11 takeaways, compared to four last season. Tech also has 12 sacks on the season, one less than it had in the entirety of the 2018 campaign.
Those factors have also helped improve the Tech offense, which has scored 95 more points than this time last season and produced 411 more yards of offense.
Fisher has thrown for 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns as he has completed 92 of his 152 passes this season. The sophomore broke into the career charts last week, now standing in ninth in passing yards (2,929) and 10th in total offense (3,424) in just 15 career games.
Fourteen different receivers have caught a pass this season, led by freshman Metrius Fleming (319 yards) and senior Austin Hicks (234 yards) with 18 catches each and Stafford with 17 catches for 303 yards. Hicks, Stafford and Tavin Kilpatrick each have three touchdowns, while Justin Oden, D.J. Wilkes and Hunter Coleman each have one.
On the ground, Andrew Goldsmith leads the way with 226 yards and a touchdown, Gist has 189 yards and a score, while Fisher has 149 yards and seven TDs. Fleming also has a rushing score with his 75 yards. The Golden Eagles, at this point last year, had zero rushing touchdowns – they have 10 through the first five games.
Defensively, senior linebacker Aderick Moore was everywhere last week, intercepting a pass and forcing two fumbles to go along with seven tackles at EIU. Moore leads the team with 36 tackles, while junior defensive lineman Chris Tucker leads the team with four tackles-for-loss and junior defensive lineman Henry Karimu has a team-high 2.5 sacks.
Southeast Missouri, meanwhile, is coming off of its bye week – the sixth straight season that has occurred, but the two teams have gone 3-3. The Redhawks opened the season with a 44-26 win over Southern Illinois, then fell in back-to-back weeks to FCS No. 13 Montana State and Missouri out of the Southeastern Conference. SEMO returned home and trounced West Virginia State 56-10 before the open date.
Santacaterina has thrown for 3,530 yards and 32 touchdowns in 17 games at SEMO, but has only thrown for 686 yards and four scores on 49-of-94 passing this season.
The Redhawks have also rushed for 12 touchdowns this season with Geno Hess (280 yds.), Mark Robinson (214 yds) and Santacaterina each rushing for three TDs.
On defense, linebacker Zach Hall, the reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year and Buck Buchanan Award winner, has 39 tackles, three TFL and a sack. He has 322 tackles, 13 sacks, four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and five fumbles forced in his career.
Photo by Tony Marable