By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. —
By the time the Colonels took the field Saturday evening, they knew that Tennessee State had lost.
The first-place - and previously undefeated - Tigers were knocked off in overtime by Jacksonville State earlier in the day. That upset gave the Colonels an opportunity to move back to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference standings.
It also become an unwanted distraction for EKU.
“It was definitely on our minds,” EKU senior offensive lineman Aaron Adams said of Tennessee State’s loss. “We knew that our destiny was back in our hands again. So, we came out here a little flat in the first half.”
The Colonels looked distracted for most of the game.
Still they found a way to rally late and pick up a 42-28 win over Tennessee Tech at Tucker Stadium. EKU (6-2, 4-1 OVC) scored three touchdowns in the final 9:22 of the fourth quarter, twice capitalizing on interceptions deep in Golden Eagle territory.
With the win, the Colonels move into a first-place tie with UT-Martin (6-2, 4-1).
“Whether (Tennessee State) won or lost, we still had to win this game,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “I don’t know if us coming out in the first three quarters and not playing great had anything to do with that. I think it more had to do with Tennessee Tech. They had two weeks to prepare for us. They were healthy. They were flying around and they hit us like no one hit us all year.”
It has been a disappointing season for TTU.
After sharing the OVC title with EKU last year, the Golden Eagles (2-5, 0-4) hadn’t defeated a Division I school so far this season, even after adding former University of Tennessee wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers.
Still, after a week off, they were ready for the Colonels.
Rogers and quarterback Tre Lamb connected on three touchdowns. The final TD connection from the duo gave TTU a 28-20 lead with 14:49 left in the fourth quarter.
The Colonels answered right back.
They put together a 14-play 77-yard drive, but faced a 4th and 1 on the TTU 1-yard line. Junior running back Deshaun Sands got the call and followed the blocking of Adams into the end zone.
“It’s just pure want-to down there,” Sands said. “It just comes down to that. Who wants it more.”
Matt Denham punched in the two-point conversion to tie the game.
“It was just a great moment,” Adams said, Moments later, the EKU defense delivered a big moment.
Cornerback Justin Bell hammered Lamb just as he released the ball and Cejay Ceniza intercepted the pass, which was intended for Rogers.
“I was waiting to jump the route,” Ceniza said. “Justin Bell put pressure on him and the ball just floated in the air and a jumped on it.”
Three plays later, Ike Ariguzo caught a 28-yard pass from senior quarterback T.J. Pryor.
On TTU’s next offensive play, backup quarterback Darian Stone was intercepted by Brooklyn Fox. That led to a 38-yard TD catch by Cameron Bailey three plays later.
Bailey was hit by TTU’s Austin Tallant as he made the catch in the end zone, but he held on.
“I was really just excited that I held on to the ball and secured the catch,” Bailey said. “It seemed like the ball was in the air forever.”
The Golden Eagles had the momentum early on.
On the second play from scrimmage, Lamb hit Adam Urbano on a 77-yard touchdown pass.
The Colonels drove into the red zone on their first possession, but had to settle for a 21-yard Luke Pray field goal.
Lamb connected Rogers on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 5:28 left in the first quarter that put Tech up 14-3. The Colonels answered back with a pair of touchdown that gave them their first lead of the game. Bailey caught a 20-yard TD pass from Pryor late in the first quarter and then Denham scored on a 6-yard run mid-way through the second quarter that put EKU in front 17-14.
Rogers put TTU back in front with a 40-yard TD catch just more than a minute later.
The Golden Eagles had a 21-17 lead and had a chance to extend that lead just before halftime. But, they fumbled on the EKU 24-yard line and Ceniza jumped on the ball to kill the drive.
Pray connected on a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the TTU lead to 21-20.
The Colonels allowed 281 yards passing, but limited the Golden Eagles to just 15 yards rushing on 22 attempts and forced three turnovers.
Dean Hood: “When you play a passing offense and they can run the football, you are in for a long day,” Hood said. “We didn’t allow them to run the ball.”
The Colonels finished with 506 yards of total offense, 296 of which was passing.
Denham had 104 yards rushing. The senior has rushed for more than 100 yards in 14 of the past 16 games.
Tyrone Goard had four catches for 93 yards and Bailey had four catches for 81 yards.
Pryor was 23-of-31 for 296 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colonels are set to return to action Saturday at home against Eastern Illinois.