By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
When the Colonels walked off the field at Roy Kidd Stadium following a 44-0 win over Tennessee State two weeks ago, they certainly seemed to be a team worthy of consideration for an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs.
But, a lot has changed since that impressive victory.
An embarrassing loss at Jacksonville State last week put EKU’s postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.
And then, any chance of a playoff berth completely slipped away Saturday with a loss at home on Senior Day.
UT-Martin (7-4, 5-2 OVC) built a 13-0 halftime lead and went on to pick up a 16-7 victory over the Colonels (6-5, 4-3 OVC). The win was the first-ever for the Skyhawks at Roy Kidd Stadium.
EKU had won all 11 all-time meetings with UT-Martin in Richmond.
“It’s a tough loss,” EKU senior linebacker Ichiro Vance said. “But, we’ve got to learn and move on. That’s part of life.”
The loss dropped the Colonels into a tie for fourth place in the Ohio Valley Conference with one week left on the schedule. EKU will need to beat Murray State on the road next week to finish the season with a winning record.
“I thought our kids played hard, but bottom line is if you turn the ball over in college football and you don’t stop the run and you can’t run the ball, you don’t win,” EKU coach Dean Hood said.
The Colonels came into the game with the second-best rushing offense in the OVC, but were held to a season-low 80 yards on 30 carries (2.7 yards a carry).
EKU also had the second-best rush defense in the league (119.4), but allowed 215 yards on 43 carries (5.0 yards a carry).
The Colonels also had three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) and only forced one turnover.
“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” EKU senior linebacker Tyler Horn said.
The Skyhawks got an early break when Jaucady Rutledge fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. UT-Martin took advantage and took a 3-0 lead just 1:40 into the game with a 38-yard field.
Jackson Redditt added a 51-yard field goal with 2:17 left in the first quarter. The Skyhawks had a field goal blocked in the second quarter, but put together a six-play 46-yard drive just before the half that D.J. McNeil capped with a 9-yard TD run.
“The first half killed us,” Hood said.
At halftime, the Colonels had just 44 yards of total offense and two first downs. They were also 0-of-7 on third downs.
Junior quarterback Jared McClain was five-of-nine for 29 yards in the first half and had fumbled twice. He was replaced in the lineup by redshirt freshman Kyle Romano just before halftime.
In the second half, Romano provided a bit of a spark, leading the Colonels on a nine-play drive. The quarterback scored on a 1-yard run with 9:20 left in the third quarter, which got EKU back in the game.
“We came out in the second half and really picked up the intensity a little bit more and made some adjustments,” Horn said. “We’ve got to give their offensive line a lot of credit.”
But that spark didn’t last.
Romano was picked off twice in the fourth quarter and the Colonels finished with just 225 yards of total offense.
Devin Borders caught a 42-yard pass on the Colonels’ only scoring drive, but that was the only reception of more than 22 yards for EKU.
Romano was eight-of-22 for 116 yards.
Jeff Glover had a team-best six catches for 49 yards.
“When you can’t run the ball, you’ve got no intermediate throws,” Hood said. “That’s the problem. If you don’t run the ball, you can’t get anything underneath.”
The Colonels have finished a season with a non-winning record just three times since 1970 (1972 — 5-6, 1977— 5-5 and 2009 — 5-6). They will need a win next week at Murray State to avoid adding this season to that list.
“We’ve got one more game and the key is to shift all of our focus and energy to that game and finish,” Vance said.