Skyhawks Look to Nail Down Share of OVC Crown with Victory
The Ohio Valley Conference is not much different than any other FCS league this season.
Sure, things are finally coming into focus, but on the eve of next-to-last weekend of the regular season not one automatic qualifier has yet to be determined across the nation.
The OVC is currently paced by UT Martin which has won all four of its conference games this season.
The Skyhawks hold a one-game cushion on second-place Southeast Missouri, which is 3-1 in league play. Those two teams play next weekend in Cape Girardeau with the potential to be a winner-take-all game depending on what happens this weekend.
A UTM win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday will assure the Skyhawks of at least a share of the OVC title and a likely playoff berth no matter what happens next week in the regular season finale.
Tennessee State is currently in third place with a 3-2 record and will wrap up its conference schedule by entertaining Austin Peay on Saturday in Music City. The Govs, with a 3-2 conference mark, also has a chance to win a share of the league title, but will have to have plenty of things go their way for that to become a reality.
Murray State, which plays SEMO this week, and Tennessee Tech both have 1-3 conference records and have been eliminated from title contention. Eastern Illinois, which is idle this week, has also been eliminated and is 1-4 in conference play.
Southeast Missouri (3-1 OVC/3-6 Overall) at Murray State (1-3 OVC/4-5 Overall)
When: Nov. 13 (1 p.m. CT)
Where: Roy Stewart Stadium (16,800), Murray, Kent.
Radio: Real Rock 99.3 FM (Cape Girardeau), Froggy 103.7 FM (Murray)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 42-13-1
First Meeting: MSU 3, SEMO 0 (10/29/26 in Murray)
Last Meeting: Murray State 32, SE Missouri 31 (10/29/26)
Last Week: SE Missouri – idle
Murray State def. Tennessee Tech 32-27
This will be the second meeting this fall between the Redhawks and Racers. The two teams met less than one month ago when the Racers escaped Cape Girardeau with a 32-31 win when Aaron Baum booted a 35-yard field goal as time expired to cap a furious comeback.
Murray State found itself trailing 31-16 heading into the final quarter of play, but scored 16 unanswered points to come away with the victory. That game did not count in the Ohio Valley Conference standings.
As difficult as it might seem with six losses on the books, SEMO could still emerge with the OVC’s automatic bid for the upcoming FCS playoffs. A win this week and a triumph over current league leader UT Martin in the season finale next week would give the Redhawks the league’s automatic bid into the playoffs.
The Redhawks opened the season with one of the toughest early-season slate of games. They lost to Southern Illinois (47-21), defending FCS national champion Sam Houston State (52-14) and dropped a 59-28 decision to in-state foe Missouri to begin the season 0-3. And while the Redhawks control their own destiny for a possible OVC title and playoff berth, there is no denying now is the time to find some consistency on both sides of the ball. Another loss would all but put an end to those postseason hopes.
The focal point of the SEMO offense all season has been standout Geno Hess (5-8, 209, Sr., RB). He rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Redhawks’ last game as they downed Eastern Illinois. He now has 1,006 yards rushing on 183 carries (5.5 ypc) this season and 13 touchdowns. His 13 scores rank him fourth nationally heading into Saturday’s game against the Racers.
CJ Ogbonna (6-2, 215, Jr., QB) has completed 82 of 166 passes for 1,082 yards and five touchdowns in his first season in Cape Girardeau. He has only been intercepted five times and is averaging 120.2 yards per game through the air this season. He also ranks second on the team with 300 yards rushing on 78 carries (3.8 ypc) and two scores.
The new SEMO signal caller has found success distributing the ball to several outstanding pass catchers. Terrell Jester (6-0, 190, So. WR) lead the team with 19 catches for 244 yards while Johnny King (6-4, 180, Sr., WR) is just shy of that pass with 18 catches for a team-best 298 yards and five touchdowns. Despite missing five games because of injury, Zack Smith (5-9, 200, Grad., WR) has chipped in with 17 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns while playing in just four games this season.
SEMO has four outstanding players on the defensive side of the ball who are likely to have their leadership skills tested in a big way over the next two weeks as the Redhawks make a push toward the playoffs. And all four are linebackers, which provides SEMO with one of the most solid units at the position on the field in the OVC.
Bryce Norman (6-0, 220, Fr.) leads the team with 58 (29 solo) tackles this season. He has also tallied 7.5 tackles for loss, which is second on the team, along with 1.5 sacks. Brandon Mincey (6-0, 242, Sr.) has recorded 46 (19 solo) tackles and has a team-best eight TFLs. He also has intercepted one pass and has one fumble recovery to his credit.
Omardrick Douglas (6-3, 234, Grad.) and Jacob Morrissey (6-0, 205, So.) have chipped in with 44 and 41 total tackles this season. Douglas (13 solo tackles) has 4.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. Morrissey, meanwhile, has 21 solo tackles along with 6.5 TFLs and a team-leading three sacks.
Last week’s win was one for the ages for Murray State as the Racers downed Tennessee Tech 32-27.
MSU’s defense forced three turnovers in the game which marked the fifth time in Dean’s Hood’s time as coach at the school that the Racers have forced three or more turnovers in a game.
Marcis Floyd (6-0, 188, RS-So., CB) shined for the Racers on defense against the Golden Eagles. He picked off his first two passes of the season in the game and piled up 117 return yards, including a 90-yard return for a touchdown. The 117 return yards is the second most in OVC history and just two yards off the record. Floyd also returned a PAT attempt 99 yards for two points for the Racers.
Floyd finished the game with seven total tackles to increase his season total to 36 (28 solo). He also has three tackles for loss and two sacks to his credit this season.
The Murray State defense has been led all season by standout linebacker Eric Samuta (5-10, 215, RS-Jr.) who has 66 (39 solo) tackles on the season, including 3.5 TFLs. Teammate Lawaun Powell (6-0, 227, RS-Fr.), another linebacker, has tallied 42 (28 solo) stops on the season, which includes 4.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Jamari Daily (5-11, 175, RS-Fr., S) and Cortez Roberts (5-11, 198, RS-Jr., S) have chipped in with 36 and 35 total tackles each for the Racers this season. Daily has 22 solo stops to his credit while Roberts has posted 20 solo tackles.
Damonta Witherspoon (5-10, 206, RS-Fr., RB) ran for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown against Tech a week ago. He now has 664 yards on 170 carries (3.9 ypc) this season and six touchdowns and has added 17 receptions for 174 yards and an additional score for the Racers. He is averaging 93.1 all-purpose yards per contest.
Quarterback DJ Williams (6-2, 202, RS-Fr.,) continues his solid season under center. He has completed 166 of 120 passes for 786 yards and three touchdowns (2 interceptions) and has piled up 328 yards on 59 rushing attempts (5.6 ypc) and four TDs. His rushing total ranks second on the team in that department.
LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, RS-Jr.) and Malik Honeycutt (5-10, 177, RS-Sr.) have combined for 46 receptions from their wide receiver positions that have resulted in 690 yards. Brooks has caught 30 passes for 401 yards and one touchdown while Honeycutt has hauled in 16 passes for 289 yards on the season.
Aaron Baum (6-2, 250, RS-Jr., K/P), whose last-second field goal was the difference in the previous meeting with the Redhawks last month, kicked three field goals in the win over Tennessee Tech and added three PATs to finish with 12 points on his way to earning the league’s specialist of the week honor. It was the third time this season he has booted three field goals in a game
UT Martin (4-0 OVC/8-1 Overall) at Tennessee Tech (1-3 OVC/3-6 Overall)
When: Nov. 13 (1:30 p.m. CT)
Where: Tucker Stadium (16,500), Cookeville, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: WCMT 1410 AM/100.5 FM (Martin), KISS 98.5 FM (Cookeville)
All-Time Series: TTU leads 22-18-2
First Meeting: TTU 12, UT Martin 0 (10/22/26)
Last Meeting: UTM 40, TTU 40-7 (4/11/21)
Last Week: UT Martin def. Tennessee State 41-20
Tennessee Tech lost to Murray State 32-27
With a chance at a conference championship no longer a possibility, Tennessee Tech could head into the final two weeks of the season looking to play the role of spoiler for two teams whose chances of winning the OVC title are still alive.
A win by the Golden Eagles on Saturday against conference leader UT Martin and a win against Austin Peay next week in the regular season finale would wreak havoc in the league standings.
But first things first. Tech will have to get past the Skyhawks. And that will be no easy task.
UT Martin opened the season with a 59-21 loss to Western Kentucky. But since that time the Skyhawks have strung together eight straight triumphs and has continued to quietly climb the national rankings as more and more pollsters are becoming aware of the work going on in Cookeville.
While Tennessee Tech has several scenarios in front of them as to how the curtain will fall on the 2021 season, the road ahead for UT Martin is more clear-cut. A win over the Golden Eagles will assure the Skyhawks at least a share of the OVC championship. Oh, almost as nice, a win would return possession of the Sgt. York Trophy to UT Martin for the first time since 2016.
Keon Howard (6-1, 215, Grad., QB) has emerged as one of the top players in the nation this season after transferring to UT Martin after graduating from Tulane. Howard, who was recently added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List as the top player in the FCS, has completed 140 of his 219 pass attempts this season for 1,670 yards and 13 touchdowns (7 interceptions). He has also rushed 91 times for 445 yards (4.9 ypc) and 10 more scores for the Skyhawks to average 235 yards of total offense per game this season.
He rushed for 75 yards for the Skyhawks in their win over Tennessee State last weekend as part of the 298 yards rushing on the day by UTM against the league’s top-ranked defense. He accounted for three touchdowns in the game to establish a new school record for multiple rushing touchdowns in a game by a quarterback with four.
Peyton Logan (5-8, 190, Sr., RB) has joined Howard in having an outstanding season for the Skyhawks. He has now rushed for 816 yards on 112 carries (7.3 ypc) and two TDs and has caught 20 passes out of the backfield for 221 yards and three more scores on the season.
Zak Wallace (6-0, 220, RS-Fr., RB) has actually carried the ball the most for the Skyhawks this season. He has rushed 113 times for 543 yards (4.8 ypc) and an impressive 11 touchdowns. He had 123 yards in last week’s win over Tennessee State.
Colton Dowell (6-3, 215, RS-Jr., WR) and Rodney Williams (6-4, 235, Grad., TE) have combined to catch 42 passes for 699 yards so far this season. Dowell has a team-high 22 catches for 398 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Williams has added 20 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns of his own.
Two other pass catchers are also having solid seasons for the Skyhawks. Donnell Williams (6-3, 205, Grad., WR) has caught 18 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown while teammate Zoe Roberts (5-11, 185, Fr., WR) is making a name for himself with 15 receptions for 183 yards and a team-best four receiving touchdowns in his first collegiate season.
Defensively, UTM has been paced by a trio of standouts for much of the season. Deven Sims (6-2, 200, RS-Jr., S) has recorded a team-high 65 (30 solo) tackles through nine games, including 3.5 tackles for loss. Linebackers John Ford (6-3, 230, Grad.) and D’Carrious Stephens (6-0, 225, Grad.) are not far behind with 55 and 50 total tackles of their own. Ford has tallied 26 solo stops and has been credited with four TFLs while Stephens (21 solo) has also tallied four tackles for loss among this total stops.
Eyabi Anoma (6-6, 270, RS-So., DL) currently ranks eighth of the team with 25 (11 solo) tackles, including an eye-popping 9.5 TFLs. Anoma played at Alabama in 2018 and was at Houston (2019) before transferring to UT Martin.
The Golden Eagles
Tennessee Tech is hoping for a strong performance over the final two games of the season to keep from finishing at the bottom of the league standings.
David Gist (5-11, 190, Jr., RB) has been the most consistent offensive player for the Golden Eagles this season. He has rushed 144 times for 759 yards (5.3 ypc) and eight touchdowns. He has also caught 27 passes for 185 yards and one other score. His 106.9 all-purpose yards per game is among the best in the OVC.
He has 62 rushing yards and two touchdowns, along with four receptions for 26 yards, in last week’s game against Murray State.
Willie Miller (6-0, 178, So., QB) has taken over under center and has now completed 47 of 101 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns (6 interceptions). He has added 262 yards on 69 rushes (3.8 ypc) and two more scores for the Golden Eagles.
Quinton Cross (5-11, 175, RS-So., WR) is the top pass catcher for Tech this season. He has hauled in 38 passes for 505 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the sub-.500 record this season, Tech does boast one of the top linebacking units in the OVC in the form of Josh Reliford (5-10, 200, RS-Jr.), Seth Carlisle (6-0, 225, Jr.), and Jack Warwick (6-0, 224, RS-So.). Reliford is leading the team with 60 (32 solo) tackles, including four tackles for loss, while Carlisle is not far behind with 57 (25 solo) tackles of his own. Warwick has chipped in with 44 (23 solo) tackles which includes three TFLs.
Devin Squires (6-0, 240, Fr., DL) has had a strong collegiate debut by tallying 29 (9 solo) tackles and a team-best 8.5 tackles for loss.
Austin Peay (2-2 OVC/4-5 Overall) at Tennessee State (3-2 OVC/5-4 Overall)
When: Nov. 13 (2 p.m. CT)
Where: Nissan Stadium (60,143)Nashville, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: ESPN 540 AM/104.1 FM (Clarksville)
All-Time Series: TSU leads 15-9-0
Last Meeting: TSU 24, APSU 22 (10/2/21)
Last Week: APSU def. Eastern Illinois 42-26
TSU lost to UT Martin 41-20
Tennessee State held off a late comeback bid by Austin Peay to defeat the Govs 24-22 when the two teams met in Clarksville last month in a game that did not count in the OVC standings.
TSU held a narrow 3-0 lead at halftime of that game and increased its lead to 24-16 with 5:33 left in the game before APSU mounted its comeback bid. The Govs would score with 1:56 remaining. A two-point attempt to tie the game failed and the Tigers came away with the victory.
So much more is at stake this time around as both teams still have a chance, albeit, slim, to emerge as conference champions. It will take a lot of dominoes falling in place for the Tigers or the Govs to win the league title. But a win this weekend is at the top of that list.
It’s been a season of missed opportunities for Austin Peay as the Govs have struggled to find consistency on offense. And those struggles are illuminated by the team’s 4-5 overall record in a season that began amid plenty of optimism.
The Govs though might have found the recipe for a strong kick down the stretch after a program-record six interceptions in their 42-26 win over Eastern Illinois last weekend.
If APSU manages to win the final two games of the regular season the Govs would finish with a 4-2 record in league play and depending on the outcome of several other games, APSU could finish in a tie for the league championship.
Johnathon Edwards (6-2, 192, Grad., DB) picked off three EIU passes to lead the Govs past the Panthers and earn OVC honors for defensive player of the week.
Edwards now has seven interceptions this season along with two fumble recoveries. He leads all FCS defensive players with nine turnovers gained this fall.
Austin Peay also recorded season highs in tackles for loss (9) and sacks (5) in the win over the Panthers in a game that saw the Govs having to rally from a 10-0 deficit in the first four minutes of the game.
Shamari Simmons (5-11, 197, Jr., DB) added two interceptions in the second half for the Govs and teammate Koby Perry (6-0, 174, Grad., DB) had an interception for the second consecutive game for Austin Peay.
Draylen Ellis (6-0, 175, So., QB) returned after missing the last two games and accounted for 278 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s game to earn the league’s offensive player of the week for the fourth time in his career. Drae McCary (5-8, 176, Fr., WR) was the OVC newcomer of the week after posting a career-high 137 yards in receiving and the first multi-touchdown game of his APSU career.
Baniko Harley (6-0, 227, Grad., WR) and Ahmaad Tanner (6-0, 205, Grad., RB) continue to climb the career charts at Austin Peay. Harley currently has 2,053 career receiving yards and 20 career touchdowns. He needs 174 more yards to move into fourth place on the all-time receiving list at the school and five more touchdowns to climb to third on that chart.
Tanner, meanwhile, has 2,393 rushing yards in his career in Clarksville and needs just 171 more yards to surpass Mike Lewis (1985-89) for sixth place on the Govs’ all-time list.
Tennessee State has surprised many prognosticators this season as the Tigers also have an outside chance of claiming the league’s championship and a berth in the FCS playoffs. But a win over the Govs in what is the conference finale is a must. TSU closes out the regular season next week at Mississippi State.
Geremy Hockbottom (6-4, 210, Sr., QB) has been solid for the Tigers all season despite the loss last week to UT Martin that snapped TSU’s four-game winning streak. He has completed 139 of 239 passes for 1,846 yards and 12 touchdowns (4 interceptions). He also ranks second on the team with 261 rushing yards on 66 carries (4.0 ypc) and seven more touchdowns and is averaging 234.1 yards per game of total offense this season.
Devon Starling (6-1, 200, So., RB) was expected to be one of the top runners in the league this season and he has not disappointed. He had 78 yards on 16 carries last week against UT Martin and has now rushed 165 times for 761 yards (4.6 ypc) and three touchdowns. He and Hickbottom have combined for 10 of the 13 rushing TDs for the Tigers this season. Starling has also caught 33 passes for 303 yards and had a career-high 12 catches last week for 117 yards against the Skyhawks. The 12 catches are the most by a running back in the FCS this season.
Rodell Rahmaan (6-4, 230, Sr., TE) leads the team with 25 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns while teammate Dayron Johnson (5-9, 180, So., WR) has added 17 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
Standout kicker Antonio Zita (5-9, 175, Jr., K/P) booted one field goal in the loss last week, but now has 54 field goals in his career and needs just five more to become the all-time league leader in that department.
James Green (6-1, 220, RS-Jr., LB) and Jahsun Bryant (6-2, 225, Jr., LB) are pacing the Tigers in tackles this season. Green has 60 (30 solo) tackles, including six TFLs to his credit, while Bryant is right behind with 58 (29 solo) tackles on the year.
Cory Rahman (6-2, 195, Sr., S) has tallied 55 (37 solo) tackles. He has been credited with 5.5 tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead with Eddie Graham (5-10, 185, Sr., DB) with two interceptions each. Josh Green (5-11, 184, So. S) has added 50 (33 solo) tackles of his own.
OVC Standings (thru games of Nov. 6)
1 – UT Martin 4-0 8-1
2 – SE Missouri 3-1 3-6
3 – Tennessee State 3-2 5-4
4 – Austin Peay 2-2 4-5
5 – Murray State 1-3 4-5
Tennessee Tech 1-3 3-6
7 – Eastern Illinois 1-4 1-9
Next Week’s Games
Murray State at Eastern Illinois
Tennessee State at Mississippi State
Tennessee Tech at Austin Peay
UT Martin at SE Missouri
END OF REGULAR SEASON
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.