Cookeville, Tenn. – It came down to the wire, but Tennessee State staved off a Tennessee Tech comeback as the Tigers captured a 42-40 victory over the 19th ranked Golden Eagles in front of 8,676 fans at Tucker Stadium.
Tennessee State (3-4, 2-2 OVC) led by as many as 22 points in the second half before TTU (4-2, 3-1 OVC) scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee Tech connected a 10-yard touchdown to cut the Tigers lead to 42-40 with 15 seconds remaining. The Golden Eagles initially recovered the onside kick attempt, but it was ruled that the kick did not reach 10 yards, giving the Tigers the ball and subsequently ending the game.
Saturday’s victory gave TSU a win over a ranked opponent for the first time since defeating No. 13 Eastern Illinois 21-10.
In total, TSU racked up 398 offensive yards with 232 from the air and 166 on the ground. The Tigers defense forced four turnovers to help catapult the Tigers to victory.
Freshman redshirt quarterback Michael German threw 19 completions for 232 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. The Pompano Beach, Fla., native has not thrown an interception in 131 attempts.
Senior tailback Dante’ Thomas racked up 79 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Thomas improved his career rushing total to 1,636, making him just five yards away from reaching TSU’s all-time top-5 list. Trabis Ward also had a solid evening, racking up 64 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Wideout Calvin McNairl reeled in four catches for 96 yards. Meanwhile, Devin Wilson and Jeremy Pryor combined for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, linebacker Rico Council had a standout performance. The senior notched nine tackles, recovered two fumbles and recorded two pass breakups. Remarkably, Saturday marked the first time in Council’s career that he had pounced on a fumble.
Sophomore defensive back Steven Godbolt picked up two interceptions, a breakup and seven tackles. Also contributing to the Tigers defense was Daniel Fitzpatrick and Antonio Harper, who both recorded nine tackles against the Golden Eagles.
To start the contest, Council recovered a Tennessee Tech fumble to give the Tigers prime field position. The Tigers responded with a three play drive. German connected to Pryor with a 12-yard pass to put TSU up 7-0 with 13:51 left in the first quarter.
On the next offensive possession, the Tigers put together a 10-play drive, culminating with a 27-yard pass from German to Wilson as TSU took a 14-0 lead with 8:44 on the clock in the first.
The Golden Eagles responded with a 77-yard drive as Dontey Gay scored a 1-yard touchdown, cutting the Tigers lead to 14-7.
With 14:52 left in the second quarter, the Eagles used an 11 play drive with Zack Ziegler scoring the tying touchdown.
German threw a 48-yard pass to McNairl that put the Tigers in prime field position. Thomas rushed in for a one-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 21-14 with 13:26 left in the half.
TTU’s Zach Sharp nailed a 34-yard field goal to cut the Tigers lead to 21-17.
Tennessee State went up 28-17 when the Tigers converted on three third downs to set up a three yard rushing touchdown by Trabis Ward.
With Tennessee Tech driving, Steven Godbolt picked up a crucial interception to help the Tigers preserve an 11 point lead at the half.
Tennessee Tech’s Sharp tacked on a career-best 49-yard field goal to make it a 28-20 at the end of the first half.
On their first drive in the second half, the Tigers drove 61 yards and capitalized with a nine-yard German touchdown run.
Council once again answered with another fumble recovery in the third quarter. His recovery set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Thomas to give TSU the 42-20 edge.
Godbolt collected his second interception of the game at 6:48 in the third quarter. TTU added a Sharp 31-yard field goal with 3:14 left in the third quarter, making it a 42-23 contest.
Tennessee Tech added another touchdown when Tre Lamb made a two yard pass to Charlie Stevens, narrowing the score to 42-30. Sharp tacked on another field goal to cut the deficit to 42-33 with 9:42 left in the game.
The Eagles’ Sharp missed a 42-yard field goal with 5:28 left, missing an opportunity to cut the Tigers’ lead to single digits. TTU then responded with a Lamb to Ziegler 10-yard pass to put the Eagles within two.
The Tigers regained possession after the onside kick penalty to seal the win. TSU remains on the road next weekend when they visit Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. (CT) in Richmond, Ky.
NOTES: Tennessee Tech wins toss, elected to receive the ball in the first half…Rico Council recovered his first fumble in his career early in the first quarter and he recovered another in the third quarter…Both Council fumble recoveries led to TSU touchdowns…The Tigers opening score marked the second time in three games time TSU added points in the first two minutes of the game…In the first half, the Tigers converted on six-of-seven third down opportunities…Freshman defensive back Steven Godbolt intercepted a pass for the first time in his career late in the second quarter…Godbolt later intercepted his second pass of the game in the third quarter…Freshman Weldon Garlington did not make a kickoff return until the start of the second half…TSU converted three third downs for touchdowns on Saturday…The Tigers won back-to-back games in the OVC for the first time since upending Southeast Missouri and Eastern Kentucky in 2009.