By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Last week’s matchup with Austin Peay at Roy Kidd Stadium provided the Colonels with a perfect opportunity to get back on track following a disappointing loss.
And they did just that.
A convincing 45-14 win over the winless Governors not only allowed the Colonels (5-2, 3-1 OVC) to stay right in the hunt for an Ohio Valley Conference title but helped them regain a little bit of their swagger.
“I thought it showed the resolve of our guys,” EKU coach Dean Hood said of the win. “We had that debacle (against Tennessee State in Nashville) and that was either going to break us down a little or it was going to bond our guys together. I thought our guys locked arms and said, ‘No more. Let’s get this thing going back in the direction we had it.’ I thought that showed.”
With that win, the Colonels stayed just a half game back of Tennessee State (7-0, 3-0 OVC) in the conference standings with still more than a month left in the regular season.
“Coming out and putting Austin Peay away really gave us a confidence boost,” EKU senior running back Matt Denham said.
Now, the Colonels will look to carry that momentum back out on the road.
EKU is set to take on Tennessee Tech at 8 p.m. Saturday in Cookeville, Tenn.
The Golden Eagles shared last year’s OVC title with the Colonels, but they are just 2-4 (0-3 OVC) so far this season.
“We don’t take any teams for granted,” Denham said. “I don’t think there are any underdogs in our conference. If you let an opponent slip under your radar, then you are going to get beat.”
The Colonels didn’t look past the winless Governors last week.
EKU had a 28-7 lead at halftime and dominated on both sides of the ball. The Colonels out-gained Austin Peay 474-314, were eight-of-13 on third down and held the ball for more than 32 minutes.
Denham rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns and senior quarterback T.J. Pryor broke the school record for career completions (481) and touchdown passes (47) by completing eight-of-13 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
After having their ground attack held in check, somewhat, in the previous two weeks (123 yards against UT-Martin and 125 yards against Tennessee State), the Colonels finished with 219 yards rushing on a season-high 53 rushing attempts.
“It no secret that we are going to run the ball,” Hood said.
The Colonels are third in the OVC in rushing offense (199.7 yards a game — 21st in the nation among FCS schools).
Denham is second in the OVC and 10th nationally in rushing yards a game (124.9). The senior needs just 64 more yards to move into the school’s all-time Top 10 rushing leaders.
Denham has rushed for at least 100 yards in 13 of the past 15 games.
The senior running back had 151 yards on the ground last year against the Golden Eagles, but that was about all the offense the Colonels could come up with. Tennessee Tech limited EKU to just 194 total yards during a 28-21 win at Roy Kidd Stadium.
That victory allowed TTU to claim its first OVC title since 1975. The Golden Eagles, Jacksonville State and EKU all finished with 6-2 records.
The three schools shared the title, but Tech got the league’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
“In my mind, they won the title last year,” Hood said of Tech. “They beat us and Jacksonville both. They won the OVC. They have a lot of guys back. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge going down there.”
This season has been challenging for the Golden Eagles.
Despite the addition of a big-time transfer — University of Tennessee receiver Da’Rick Rogers — Tech doesn’t have a win against a Division I school. The Golden Eagles have lost their first three OVC games and have basically already had seen their chances of a second-straight conference title slip away.
“I like the attitude of our guys,” TTU coach Watson Brown said. “We are so disappointed in where we are. Football is such a different sport because you can get bounced early and that’s what has happened to us. We’ve got to regroup and have different goals.”
The Golden Eagles are coming off an open week following losses to SEMO (41-38 in OT), Murray State (70-35) and Jacksonville State (37-28).
“It’s Groundhog Day every week,” Hood said. “You are playing against someone who wants to make a statement against your team every week.”
The Golden Eagles have some weapons.
Senior quarterback Tre Lamb scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter last year against EKU and also had two passing TDs.
This season, Lamb is fourth in the OVC in total offense (267.5 yards a game), passing yards a game (264.8), pass efficiency (145.0) and passing touchdowns (13).
Rogers is third in the OVC in receiving yards a game (106.7) and fourth in receptions (39), yards per catch (16.4) and reception yards (640).
“I think if you get your emotions wrapped up in it, then it can be a trap game,” Denham said of playing Tech. “Trying to look for revenge or something like that. I don’t think we play into the role. They came down here and beat us last year. It is what it is.”
The Colonels haven’t lost in Cookeville since 2006.