By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a wild finish at Tucker Stadium on Saturday night as the Tennessee Tech football team scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and overcame a 19-6 deficit to take a 26-25 victory over Texas A&M-Commerce.
Turnovers stalled the Golden Eagle offense in the first half as Tech saw passes picked off in two of its first three drives, then two lost fumbles deep in the Golden Eagles' territory led to quick, short-field scores as Eric Rodriguez threw two touchdown passes, completing a 37-yard strike to Andrew Armstrong and a 20-yard scoring pass to B.J. Busbee. After missing the first PAT, Emmanuel Adagbon hit the second to put the Lions up 13-0 with 13:18 remaining in the first half.
Hayden Olsen and Adagbon traded field goals as Tech's kicker hit from 27 and 33 yards out, TAMUC's from 20 and 27 yards out.
Rodriguez left the game in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury, ending his night with 169 passing yards on 14-of-22 passing. That brought Ohio State transfer Jagger LaRoe into the game and while the quarterback was able to complete five of his nine passes, the Tech defense was able to force the Lions to turn the ball over on downs twice in third quarter.
The first turnover on downs led to Olsen's second field goal as Tech was stalled after going 51 yards to the Lion 16. The first TAMCU drive in the fourth quarter ended on downs as the Golden Eagle defense came up strong, forcing the Lions back 13 yards on five plays, going from the Tech 23 to the 36.
With momentum shifting, Tech quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall engineered a nine-play, 64-yard drive. Starting with two rushes for O.J. Ross to get into Lion territory, then Oatsvall completed an 11-yard pass to Ashton Maples, shrugged off a sack, then ran 12 yards to the TAMUC 23. Following a roughing the passer penalty, the Golden Eagles advanced to the 11. David Gist picked up nine yards, then with the Lion defense stacked at the goal line, Oatsvall halved the remaining distance before Gist picked up the final yard for the touchdown.
Olsen's PAT to remain perfect in his career brought Tech back within a touchdown at 19-13 with 9:12 remaining in the contest.
The Lions pushed back ahead by 12 points as Spencer Long cut a swath through the Tech defense as sped away for a 69-yard touchdown. LaRoe attempted a two-point pass, but the pass failed with 7:41 left.
Metrius Fleming took the kickoff out of the end zone and brought it out to the Tech 16 to start the next drive, then Ross picked up carries of 14 and 6 yards before a holding call brought the ball back to the 26. Oatsvall stepped back and fired to Willie Miller for a 17-yard pickup, then got a nine-yard completion from Quinton Cross to get into Lion territory.
Justin Pegues claimed the first down on a six-yard scamper, then Oatsvall ran for two before an unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Lions to get Tech to the 25. The Golden Eagles faced 3rd-and-11 before an offsides penalty made it a manageable 3rd-and-6. Oatsvall completed an eight-yard pass to Hunter Barnhart to move the chains.
Now at the Lion 13, Tech used three rushes from Pegues and Oatsvall to get the ball to the four, then the Golden Eagle QB caught Jayvian Allen on a route into the end zone. Olsen's PAT was good, putting Tech back within five with 3:19 remaining in the contest.
The Golden Eagle defense stepped up once again as Long ran twice for a net loss with Daniel Rickert, Seth Carlisle and Aidan Raines stopping him from breaking off another big run, then Hudson Tucker and Raines stopped LaRoe on the Lion 18, forcing Mitchell McGarry to punt on 4th-and-11. Jyron Gilmore got the ball and tried to make a return happen, but was only able to get back to the Golden Eagle 49.
So there was the situation – down five with 2:11 remaining in the contest with 51 yards to go to potential victory.
With completions to Ross and Fleming, Tech moved to the Lion 40 in three plays, but back-to-back penalties pushed the Golden Eagles backward, facing 1st-and-30 from the Golden Eagle 40. It was no problem as Oatsvall found Fleming for 32-yard pickup to move the chains and get to the Lion 28.
Going no-huddle, Oatsvall had two consecutive four-yard rushes, then completed a seven-yard pass to Gist to get to the 13, followed by a seven-yard completion to Ashton Maples. On the catch, the ball came loose after the hit by Michael Noble, but Nate Hodnett saved the day by recovering the fumble at the Lion 8 with six seconds left on the clock.
With ice in his veins and under pressure, Oatsvall watched his receivers take flight and fired. As the remaining seconds ticked away, Miller made the catch and dove over the line for the touchdown. Tech had its first lead of the game, 26-25.
With two seconds remaining, Oatsvall took a knee on the two-point try to prevent any chance of the Lions returning any kind of mistake for more points. Devin Parker kicked the ball off for 32 yards with Josiah Kennard returning it for a one-yard loss before lateralling to Austin Samaha, who fumbled the ball. Ross came away with the fumble and celebrated as the final buzzer sounded.
Tech ended the game with 454 yards of total offense to Commerce's 386. The Golden Eagles rushed for 228 yards, led by 67 yards for Gist and 65 for Oatsvall. The Tech quarterback completed 20 of his 26 passes for 226 yards, with Miller catching four passes for 93 yards and Fleming five for 75 yards.
Penalties also proved to be a factor in Tech's resurgence as the Lions were whistled 14 times for 117 yards, compared to Tech's 50 yards on five flags.
Darius Williams and Daryion Taylor led Commerce in tackles with 12 and 11.5 respectively, while Carlisle led the Golden Eagles with eight, Josh Reliford, Gilmore and Raines with five.
Tech (1-1) returns to action next week as the Golden Eagles host Samford on Saturday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Season tickets are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order.