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Golden Eagles fight valiantly, fall in OT at Kennesaw State

Golden Eagles fight valiantly, fall in OT at Kennesaw State

By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

KENNESAW, Ga. – Tennessee Tech overcame an early 14-point deficit to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but the homestanding Owls scored twice in the final 81 seconds of regulation – sandwiching a quick Golden Eagle scoring drive to force overtime.

Tech was held to a field goal in its overtime try, but Kennesaw State picked up the game-winning score on five plays with a quarterback keeper for Xavier Shepherd, giving the Owls a 33-30 victory on Saturday at Fifth Third Stadium.

Kennesaw State (3-4), who recently announced its move to Conference USA, won its 21st straight non-conference game in a row, but the Golden Eagles (1-6) gave a fight.

Tech started off well, marching down the field 69 yards on 15 plays to eat up 8:14 on the clock, but the Owls stalled them on the KSU 6-yard-line and forced the Golden Eagles to turn the ball over on downs.

The first Kennesaw drive was bolstered as Shepherd kept the ball and appeared to be wrapped up and down twice, but no whistle was heard and Shepherd got back up and running both times. By the time Tech finally got the QB down on the ground, he picked up 41 yards on the play. He then threw a 23-yard pass to Gabriel Benyard to move the chains, then Preston Daniels rushed up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown. Conor Cummins' extra point was good to give the Owls the 7-0 lead.

The Owls extended their lead with a sustained drive of their own, chewing up 7:04 on the clock and going 78 yards on 17 plays, Cummins' PAT sailing through to make it 14-0.

Following a Quavel Thornton punt return to Owl 42, Thornton picked up an eight-yard gain, but a personal foul on Kennesaw added another 15 yards to get into the red zone. After a two-yard rush by Willie Miller, Jeremiah Oatsvall connected on a 17-yard hookup to Metrius Fleming in the end zone for the touchdown.

Both teams swapped field goals before the half ended as Cummins hit a 24-yarder with 29 seconds left before intermission, then Hayden Olsen connected on a 47-yarder – his longest of the season – as time expired to make it a 17-10 game at the half.

The defense stood tall in the second half, keeping Kennesaw State off-balance and forcing them off of their triple-option bread and butter. Forced to pass more, the Golden Eagles were able to take advantage of the strategy shift and chip away.

Starting on their own 30, Tech needed eight plays to find paydirt, collecting three plays for double-digit yardage, including a 32-yard pass to Heath Price to get the Golden Eagles to the Owl 8. Oatsvall then got a pass to David Gist on the left side, who took it in for the score. Olsen's PAT tied the game at 17-all.

Tech was able to stall the Owls on their own 34, turning the ball over on downs. The Golden Eagles weren't able to move up much, but it was still in range for Olsen as he hit a 46-yarder with 5:40 left in the third quarter to take a 20-17 lead.

After holding off KSU once more to open the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles were moving up field and reached the Owl 25. Thornton had the ball on the setup and threw the ball to the Owl 13, where it was intercepted by Markeith Montgomery. In the process, Oatsvall went down and ended up sitting out the next offensive series.

Meanwhile, KSU got into field goal range to the Tech 23. Facing fourth down, Cummins attempted a 40-yard kick, but the ball sailed wide left, preserving the Golden Eagle lead.

As time wore down, the Golden Eagle defense continued to hold strong. Nicholas Bigelow punted for Tech once more, pinning the Owls down at their own 4 with 4:57 remaining in regulation. Shepherd, however, was able to get something going, rushing for an 11-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, then adding a 34-yard pass to Benyard. The drive ended as he completed a 20-yard pass down the left side to Isaac Foster, retaking the lead with Cummins' PAT making it a 24-20 Owl lead with 1:21 remaining.

Ever the competitor, Oatsvall showed guts as he led the Golden Eagles down the field on five plays in just under a minute – a two-yard pass to Brad Clark, a 39-yard strike to Heath Price, a 19-yard grab by Fleming, then an 18-yarder to Miller on the left side to close off the drive. With Olsen's PAT and 27 seconds remaining, the Golden Eagles were back on top 27-24.

Tech had 151 of its 375 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone.

Showing why Kennesaw State has had plenty of success at home, the Owls just needed two plays to get into field goal range. Shepherd used a 26-yard pass to Isaac Foster and a 26-pass to Xavier Hill to get the clock down to six seconds. After Cummins missed earlier, his next try was true from 40-yards out tying the game and sending it to overtime.

Kennesaw State won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second possession, waiting to see what the Golden Eagles could do.

The Owls' defense didn't yield – Tech was pushed back on an ineligible receiver call, picked up a yard on a rush, then two incompletions sent the field goal unit back on as Olsen connected on a 46-yarder to put Tech back up.

It was all up to the defense to get the stop. After Daniels rushed for five, Shepherd took over, passing for five, then keeping the ball on three straight plays as he rushed for two, 11 and then the touchdown on a four-yard push to the right.

Shepherd ended the game with 349 yards of total offense and two total touchdowns, passing for 224 yards and a score on a 15-of-24 effort.

For Tech, Oatsvall threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Price caught four passes for 84 yards, while Jalal Dean had 65 yards and Miller 57.

Defensively, Seth Carlisle set a new career-high in tackles, recording 16 total stops. Hudson Tucker also had double-digit tackles with 10.

The Golden Eagles return to action next Saturday as they face Eastern Illinois in Chareleston.

Photo | Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

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