The Eastern Kentucky University football team came away victorious against Tennessee State, 42-16 on Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams.
Senior Daryl McCleskey had another solid performance on the ground, rushing for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was one of the things that we were going to take what the defense gave us and we liked our run lanes and if it weren’t broke then we didn’t fix it and we kept it going,” McCleskey said.
Redshirt sophomore Alonzo Booth also contributed to the rushing attack adding 118 yards. He found the end zone twice for the Colonels in the dominating win. As a team, EKU finished with 379 yards on the ground.
“Offensively we did a lot of great things,” EKU coach Mark Elder said. “We ran the football extremely well, just shy of 400 yards rushing.”
“We’re really comfortable with the ball in their hands to make plays and help us win games,” Elder said about Booth and McCleskey leading the rushing attack.
McCleskey capped off the victory with a five yard touchdown with 5:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
McCleskey said the team was confident heading into the match-up and came out ready.
“We were all on the same note. We had a great week of preparation,” McCleskey said.
Redshirt freshman Parker McKinney was announced the starter on Monday and led the Colonels with 131 passing yards and one touchdown through the air.
“It felt great. I love being out there with my team and just being able to contribute whether it's just handing the ball off to him [McCleskey] or throwing or running,” McKinney said about starting the game.
The Coalfield, Tenn., native connected with wide receiver Jackson Beerman for a 26 yard touchdown that started the EKU offense in the first quarter.
McKinney also scrambled for a six-yard score in the second quarter.
“I thought Parker had a nice solid day,” Elder said. “He was efficient with the football. We didn’t really put the ball in jeopardy. I thought he managed the game well and did a nice job.”
EKU allowed TSU to rush for only 112 yards and one rushing touchdown. Elder was pleased that his team was able to stop the Tiger’s passing game and not allow a score through the air.
“That was a very potent offense. We kept them out of the end zone except for one drive,” Elder said. “We thought we played great in the red zone that was really positive to see that. We were able to contain those guys. They had two prolific receivers. The leading receiver in the country and then the third leading receiver in the conference and they both had some catches and some yards but we were able to keep them contained. They didn’t break out on us.”
The Colonel defense finished with three sacks and forced a fumble and picked the ball off twice.
Elder said he talked to his team at halftime about forcing turnovers.
“We didn’t have any takeaways at halftime, so we said we need to do that,” he said. “That’s a huge part of winning games is taking the ball away and taking care of it so I was pleased to see how we did with that.”
All season EKU has been working on having a balanced attack on offense and Saturday showed that they can find other ways to score.
“We were efficient in throwing the football but I would love to see a little more balance but today I thought our day was running so whatever we’re favoring in we’re not going to shove a square peg in a round hole,” Elder said. “We are going to do what we’re doing well.”
McKinney and McCleskey are happy to start out OVC action 1-0 and hope this game can give them momentum and they prepare for UT Martin next week for Homecoming.
“It’s a huge win for us especially to open up OVC play. We’re just going to carry this momentum over to next week against UT Martin,” McKinney said.
“Really proud of our guys,” Elder said. “I thought it was a great team victory today. We played well in all three phases.”
Elder credits the fan support for the dominating victory.
“I thought our fans came out again and did a great job,” he said. “It was a good atmosphere. I felt a lot of positive vibes coming from the stands and our kids feed off that. So we’re five games deep and we’ve had two games that we’ve played considerably better than the other ones and it’s the home games that we’ve got our fans out there. It’s a huge part of our success and I can’t say enough how much that means to the players."
The EKU football team will face UT Martin on Saturday, Oct. 4. Kick off for the homecoming match-up is set for 3 p.m. at Roy Kidd Stadium.