By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Twice in the second half, the Colonels had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns after getting into the red zone.
That allowed Tennessee State to hang around.
And given one last chance to put the Tigers away, EKU came up short again.
TSU took advantage of those missed opportunities, scoring twice in the final nine minutes to rally for a 23-20 win over EKU (4-2, 2-1 OVC) Saturday at W.J. Hale Stadium. Michael German’s 1-yard TD run with eight seconds left helped the undefeated No. 24 Tigers (6-0, 2-0) defeat the preseason OVC favorites.
“We shouldn’t have made the defense go out there and stop them (at the end),” EKU senior quarterback T.J. Pryor said. “We should have scored on the opportunities we had. We got in the red zone, but we couldn’t finish. At the end of the game we had some mental errors.”
The 16th-ranked Colonels were up 20-10 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and even after TSU got a touchdown, EKU still had a chance to put the game away.
On their final drive, the Colonels got the ball on their own 27-yard line and marched into Tiger territory. The drive stalled and on fourth-and-nine on the TSU 32-yard line, Pryor couldn’t hook up with senior wide receiver Tyrone Goard.
The Tigers got the ball back with 2:44 left and put together a 13-play, 68-yard driving that culminated in the game-winning touchdown.
“I thought we were in control of the game,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “I did not feel like they had the upper hand. I felt like we were in control when we kicked the field goal (early in the fourth quarter).”
EKU had one last chance, but with just six seconds left, Pryor was only able to throw up a long pass that was intercepted near mid-field. It was the first interception the senior has thrown this season.
With the win, TSU moves to 6-0 for the first time since 2001. The Tigers have won three of the past four meetings with the Colonels.
The loss snaps EKU’s four-game win streak.
The Colonels came into the game with the second-best rushing attack in the OVC, averaging 210 yards a game.
They were limited to just 123 yards on 48 carries last week in a 28-16 win on the road over UT-Martin. Against TSU, EKU was held to only 125 yards on 44 carries.
In first half, the Colonels had just 53 yards on 21 attempts, with senior All-American Matt Denham picking up 39 yards on 14 rushes. Denham finished with 114 yards on 33 carries with one touchdown.
The senior has rushed for 100 or more yards in 12 of the past 14 games.
“They scouted us real well,” Pryor said. “They knew what we were doing. They just played harder than us.”
The Colonels took a 7-0 lead when Pryor scored on a 1-yard run with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
They held on to that advantage until the Tigers took advantage of a rare EKU turnover. Senior defensive back Justin Bell mishandled a punt, giving TSU the ball on its own 20-yard line.
The Colonels had committed only one turnover in the previous four games.
“I thought I had an opportunity to make a play,” Bell said. “I didn’t see the guys on the backside and by the time the ball got there, they were right on me. That’s a mistake I shouldn’t have made.”
Four plays later, A.C. Leonard caught an 11-yard TD pass to tie the game with 7:15 left before the half.
On the final play of the second quarter, TSU’s Jamin Godfrey hit a 46-yard field goal to make the score 10-7.
“I thought we fumbled the ball around a lot, which was very disappointing,” Hood said.
Denham scored on 5-yard TD run that capped the opening drive of the second half and gave the Colonels the lead again (14-10).
Zack Burgy-VanHoose missed a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. In the second half, Luke Pray connected on field goal attempts of 21 and 30 yards.
“We couldn’t get it in the end zone, so we had to settle for a field goal,” Hood said.
The Colonels were four-of-five in red zone conversions, including two field goals, but the one opportunity they didn’t convert into points turned out to be very costly.
“We are not worried,” Bell said. “All we can do is come out and play hard week-in and week-out. We are going keep playing and stay focused.”
The Colonels are set to return home next week to take on Austin Peay.