MARTIN, Tenn. – The Eastern Kentucky University football team blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt as time expired to hang on for a thrilling 33-31 victory over #18 UT Martin Saturday afternoon at Graham Stadium. With the win, the Colonels (8-3, 7-1 OVC) clinched their 20th Ohio Valley Conference title and earned a spot in the upcoming NCAA FCS playoffs.
Eastern’s defense forced five first half turnovers which led to 24 points. In the second half, the Colonels blocked a UT Martin (8-4, 6-2) PAT attempt and returned it the distance for two more points.
Senior Brandon Gathof led EKU with 12 tackles and two interceptions. He returned the second interception 50 yards for a score in the second quarter. Gathof capped his stellar day by blocking UT Martin’s game-winning field goal attempt.
On offense, sophomore Cody Watts finished with four catches for 76 yards and two scores. Watts’ second score put Eastern Kentucky ahead 33-19 with 3:29 remaining in the third quarter.
UT Martin opened the game by turning the ball over on its first three possessions. Eastern Kentucky capitalized on the miscues to build a 17-0 lead. Senior Allan Holland’s one-yard quarterback sneak made the score 7-0.
Holland then found Watts for a 25-yard touchdown on EKU’s ensuing possession to stretch the lead to 14-0. Senior Taylor Long added a 25-yard field goal to push the advantage to 17-0 early in the second quarter.
The Skyhawks finally answered with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive to make the score, 17-6. Quarterback Cade Thompson finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Mike Hicks.
UT Martin had another chance to slice into the deficit in the second quarter, but Gathof tallied his second interception and returned it for a touchdown to make the score 24-6 at the half.
The Skyhawks came out on fire in the second half, scoring on two of their first three possessions to claw within a touchdown, 26-19. However, the Eastern Kentucky offense answered with a 66-yard touchdown drive to extend the advantage to 33-19. Holland completed all four pass attempts on the drive including a 30-yard scoring pass to Watts.
From there, UTM added two more field goals to close the gap to eight points, 33-25.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Colonel offense looked to put together one more scoring drive to clinch the victory, but the Skyhawks recovered an EKU fumble and ran it back 44-yards for a score to make the score, 33-31, with 4:24 left.
UT Martin had one final possession to try and finish the comeback. The Skyhawks started from their own 20-yard line with 1:08 remaining in regulation. Thompson extended the drive with a key fourth-down 17-yard completion to the Colonel 38-yard line. UTM then moved the ball 10 more yards to set up the winning field goal attempt with four seconds showing on the clock.
UT Martin’s Thompson finished the game 35-of-61 for a career-high 419 yards. However, Thompson also threw four interceptions.
The Colonels will host an NCAA FCS playoff selection show on Sunday, Nov. 23, in the Student Services Building (SSB) beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Kentucky will play its first round playoff game next Saturday, Nov. 29.
--Eastern Kentucky clinched its 19th NCAA FCS playoff berth, most in the nation.
--EKU improved to 19-0 all-time against UT Martin.
--The Colonels are 7-0 this year when scoring first.
--Senior linebacker Clint Perry recorded his first career interception in the first quarter.
--Senior defensive back Brandon Gathof tallied two interceptions in a game for the third time in his career. He now has 13 career interceptions.
--EKU’s defense forced at least two turnovers for the sixth consecutive game. The Colonels now have a turnover margin of +16.
--Senior defensive lineman Chris Harris blocked a UT Martin PAT attempt in the third quarter which was then returned the distance for two points by junior Andre Evans.