By KEVIN WEAKS
UT Martin’s offense showed up only in rare and brief intervals. The defense was there all night.
All in all, though, it was more than enough time to earn the Skyhawks a decisive win in their 2012 football home opener.
Playing in front of 4,012 fans at Graham Stadium, UTM scored three times in the fourth quarter for a 23-6 win over Southeastern Louisiana Thursday night.
After splitting their first two games on the road — winning at Memphis and losing at Northern Illinois — the Skyhawks improved to 2-1 and will now spend the rest of the season involved in Ohio Valley Conference games.
On the offensive end, at least, there is still plenty of work to be done in order to contend for a league championship.
“Give credit to their defense,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson said. “There were too many tackles for loss. They were stretching us sideways, and we weren’t used to that. We were kind of shell-shocked for awhile. We’re an outside zone stretch team, and their ends were doing a good job of stretching our tackles out and not giving our backs a clear read. At some point, though, you have to put your foot in the ground and go north and south.
“I’ve been here seven years, and that’s probably the most disarray we’ve been on offense since I’ve been here.”
There were some good signs on offense, especially the play of receiver Quentin Sims. He pulled in four catches for 72 yards, his 47-yard catch-and-run down the home sideline setting UTM’s first score in the second period.
Tevin Barksdale had 61 yards rushing, and DJ McNeil added 47 yards and two TDs on the ground. The running game, however, posted 39 yards in the wrong direction as a result of being tackled behind the line 13 times.
Derek Carr struggled with consistency early and finished with 184 yards on 11-of-23 throws, completing passes to seven different receivers.
And, finally, points in the kicking game were hard to come by again.
Cody Sandlin missed his first two field goal attempts — from 38 and 31 yards — before connecting from 33 yards early in the fourth quarter.
Jackson Redditt came on in relief for the point-after following UTM’s first score, and Sandlin was back in for the last PAT. In between, though, UTM suffered a miscue that resulted in holder James Satterfield forcing a pass that did not produce points.
“You know how a guy is hitting in the three- or four-hole for you, and you drop him to eighth to take a little pressure off of him? That’s why we did it,” Simpson said. “He was 2-for-7 coming in and then missed two, and he’s now 2-for-9, so it was time to give someone else a chance.
“He didn’t forget to kick. It was just a mental thing, which is why I wanted to change on the PAT kicks. We’re going to need him.”
UTM’s defense was solid all night.
While the Lions actually outgained UT Martin (358-352) in total yards, the Skyhawks pitched a shutout for 59 minutes and 23 seconds.
In classic bend-but-don’t-break style, UTM gave up drives of 62, 73 and 57 yards before allowing SLU to score on a nine-play, 62-yard series. UTM forced five punts, stopped a fourth-down try three times, picked off a pass and saw the Lions miss two field goals.
Southeastern Louisiana threw for 320 yards, but completed just 24-of-50 passes to reach that total. Stanley Moore had five catches for 131 yards.
Ben Johnson and Julius McNair led an attacking defense with 12 and 11 total tackles, respectively.
“Thank goodness for our defense,” Simpson said. “I’m very proud of our defense. I think we’re getting better there. We put a lot of pressure on their quarterback. We hit him a lot of times.”
After punting three times and missing two field goals, totaling 69 yards in all, the Skyhawks eclipsed all those possessions with their lone scoring drive of the first half.
Sims went unnoticed down the sideline for 47 yards on a pass from Carr, and McNeil finished the nine-play, 73-yard drive with a three-yard burst with 2:55 to play.
Dominating time of possession in the second half by holding the ball for 19:31, UTM got on the board three times in the fourth period.
Sandlin connected from 33 yards out at 14:08 to make it 10-0, McNeil scored on a one-yard run at 9:47 and Sims finished his good night with a five-yard TD catch from Carr with 2:29 to play.
Jason McNair’s 39-yard run, the longest of the night for UTM, set up that final score.
Jeff Smiley’s eight-yard TD pass from Brian Young with 37 seconds remaining ended UTM’s shutout bid.
“A sign of a good team — and you can go back and look — is that at some point in a season you’re going to win a game ugly,” Simpson said. “To win one ugly, we’ll take it. We’re certainly glad to be 2-1 at this point, but our expectations are high.”
UTM begins eight straight weeks of OVC play on Sept. 22 at Austin Peay.
Published in The Messenger 9.14.12