By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Homecoming on a college campus. It's one of the most treasured traditions for any school. The leaves have turned various shades of red and orange with a cool, crisp air. Fans decked out in their team gear line the streets as the Homecoming parade marches down the street.
On Saturday, it'll be Tennessee Tech's turn for the pageantry as the Golden Eagles host their 90th Homecoming game, bringing in UT Martin for the annual affair.
Kickoff for the game is slated for 1:35 p.m. Roger Ealey and Frank Harrell will provide the broadcast on 98.5 KISS FM, while Dylan Vazzano and Sam Brooks will handle the call on ESPN+ (subscription required).
The Golden Eagles are 48-40-1 all-time on Homecoming, including wins in five of their last six. Tech did not host a Homecoming game during the Spring 2021 season. Saturday will be just the second time that UT Martin will be the Golden Eagles' opponent on Homecoming – the previous time was in 1996 with Tech victorious 21-14.
Saturday being the final home contest for the Golden Eagles in the 2021 campaign also stands as Senior Day with 13 Tech players potentially suiting up for the last time at home. Included in the honorees Saturday are Schaefer Almoyan, Jale'n Gladney, Kurt Huff, Tavian Johnson, Henry Karimu, Jarrett Key, Tavin Kilpatrick, Josh Lee, Marcus McMeans, Spencer Stachyra, Mackenan Thompson, Chris Tucker and Jack Warwick.
The Skyhawks, however, will be a formidable foe in the contest. Currently in the driver's seat for both the Ohio Valley Conference championship and the Sergeant York Trophy, UT Martin comes into the game with an 8-1 record, its lone loss coming in the opener against Western Kentucky.
Since then, UTM has rifled off eight straight wins, taking down Samford, Northwestern State, Jacksonville State, Murray State, Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, Austin Peay and Tennessee State in succession.
However, the race isn't quite over. If the Golden Eagles can play spoiler this week, coupled with a Southeast Missouri win at Murray State, the OVC title and FCS Playoff automatic bid would go down to the winner of next week's UTM at SEMO contest. The Skyhawks won the earlier meeting 38-30 at Martin, but that game did not count in the conference standings.
As for the Sergeant York Trophy, UTM is currently 2-0 in the round-robin standings. If the Skyhawks beat Tech this weekend, the Skyhawks will claim the trophy outright and hold it for the first time since 2016. However, the Golden Eagles are still alive in the trophy hunt as victories over the Skyhawks this week and next week at Austin Peay would keep Sergeant York in Cookeville as any first-place tie involving the defending trophy-holder allows it to stay put.
The Skyhawks tout the league's top scoring offense, averaging 32.8 points per game, and the second-best scoring defense, allowing 26.0 points per game. Tech ranks sixth in scoring offense (19.9) and fifth in scoring defense (28.9).
One thing UTM has been able to do is control the rush. The Skyhawks lead the conference in rushing offense, averaging 229.6 yards per game with 2,066 yards total and 24 touchdowns. But UT Martin also leads the OVC in rushing defense, allowing 116.1 yards per game on the ground with 1,045 total yards and just seven rushing scores allowed.
While SEMO's Geno Hess remains the OVC's top rusher, UTM's Peyton Logan isn't far behind, averaging 90.7 rushing yards per game and 816 total yards. He has just two rushing touchdowns on the season, but the tandem of Zak Wallace and quarterback Keon Howard have shouldered the load there – combining for 22 touchdowns.
Wallace has rushed for 543 yards and Howard 445.
Howard has also found his way into the Walter Peyton Award Watch List for FCS Player of the Year. In addition to his 10 rushing touchdowns, the Tulane transfer has also thrown for 1,670 yards on 140-of-239 passing with 13 touchdowns and averaging 185.6 yards per game.
He has completed double-digit passes to six different receivers. Colton Dowell leads in yardage with 398 yards and two touchdowns, while Zoe Roberts has a team-high four TDs.
Defensively, the Skyhawks are dangerous in pass coverage. Even though they have allowed the second-most aerial yardage in the conference with 2,141 yards, UTM has the second-most interceptions in the league with 10 pickoffs, including two returned for touchdowns and 259 return yards. John Ford, the Skyhawks' second-leading tackler with 55 stops, also has three interceptions for 158 yards – one for a touchdown.
Deven Sims is UTM's top tackler, recording 65 stops.
With running back David Gist's four-game 100-yard-streak snapped at Murray State last week, the Golden Eagle rusher will try to start a new streak against the Skyhawks, even against the league's top rush defense. Gist has 759 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 84.3 yards per game. He leads Tech in all-purpose yardage with 962 yards, an average of 106.9 yards per game.
Receiver Quinton Cross had his third career 100-yard game against the Racers last week, improving to 505 yards on 38 catches with two touchdowns. Quarterbacks Willie Miller, Davis Shanley and Lem Wash combined in action last week and Miller leads all Tech passers with 591 yards and five touchdowns.
Tech is currently sixth in scoring offense, averaging 19.9 points per game, and ranks fifth in rushing offense (136.9)
Josh Reliford leads Tech on defense with 60 tackles, five pass breakups and a QB hurry. Devin Squires and A.J. Hall Jr. lead the Golden Eagles in sacks with 2.5 each, while four members of the Tech defensive front – Squires, Chris Tucker, Kail Dava and Hall have combined for 25.5 tackles-for-loss with a net total of 101 lost yards. The pressure put on there has helped lead Tech to second in the conference in rush defense, allowing 124.9 yards per game.
The Golden Eagles are currently second in the conference in total defense, allowing an average of 342.7 yards per game and 27 touchdowns.
Tech maintains a 22-18-2 record in the all-timer series, but UT Martin has won the last eight meetings with the Golden Eagles' last win coming in 2012 on a 45-44 overtime thriller.
Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order.