MARTIN, TENN. - A three touchdown fourth quarter got Tennessee State back into the game at UT Martin, but the Tigers comeback just fell short in the final game of the season as they lost to the Skyhawks 35-26 on Saturday.
Trailing 28-6 heading into the fourth quarter, TSU (8-3, 4-3 OVC) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the quarter and was a two-point conversion away from tying the game.
It all started when Vernon Frett blocked a 44-yard field goal that was returned to the TSU 38 by Greg Barksdale. Michael German hit A.C. Leonard on the next play for a touchdown to cut the Skyhawks lead to 15.
German finished with career-highs with 28 completions, 44 attempts and 355 yards, along with three touchdowns.
TSU turned UT Martin (8-3, 6-2 OVC) over on downs when they couldn't convert a fourth-and-27 on the TSU 34. The Tigers took advantage going 66 yards on seven plays in just 1:36. Joe Bowens caught a German pass from four yards out as UTM led 28-20 with 6:42 remaining.
The Tiger defense forced a three-and-out to put the ball right back in the hands of its red hot offense. German extended the eventual scoring drive running for 10 yards on a fourth-and-four. Leonard grabbed his second score of the game from German in the right side of the end zone from four yards out.
Leonard had seven catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 51 catches for a team best 733 yards (the most for a FCS tight end) and six touchdowns.
With TSU needing to go for two trailing 28-26 with two minutes left, German was sacked. UTM recovered the onside kick and had the ball at the TSU 41 with 1:55 left and the Tigers only having one timeout remaining. The Skyhawks had an illegal block penalty and a run out-of-bounds to stop the clock twice. It came down to a fourth-and-two with just over a minute left.
The Skyhawks elected to go for it and it paid off as quarterback Derek Carr threw a 33-yard touchdown to Quentin Sims, their third scoring hookup of the game, to put the Tigers away 35-26.
Carr finished 21-for-40 with three touchdowns and an interception. Sims had eight catches for a game best 176 yards and three scores.
The Tigers first possession of the game ended with a 10-yard Jamin Godfrey punt that was shanked to the left, out of bounds at the Martin 32-yard line. The Skyhawks scored the very next play as Carr found Quentin Sims for the 7-0 lead.
Carr and Sims had similar results less than four minutes later as the senior connected for a 50-yard score as Sims streaked up the right sideline for the two touchdown advantage midway through the first quarter.
On its third possession, the Tigers finally got the offense rolling as three straight third down conversions resulted in a 29-yard field goal from Godfrey. Trabis Ward had two of the third down conversions rushing for 20 yards on a third-and-seven at the UTM 43 and for nine yards on a third-and-eight at the UTM 21. Ward had 106 yards on 24 carries.
With 8:01 remaining in the first half, Jason McNair extended the Skyhawks lead to 21-3 with a 75-yard punt return.
TSU responded with three straight completions to Travis James for 32 total yards, before a Leonard six-yard reception ended with a fumble caused by Julius McNair at the UTM 18.
James had a game-high nine catches for 139 yards.
UTM turned the ball over on its next possession as Ronn Vinson caught a floater from Carr at the UTM 43 and returned it 18 yards. The Tigers couldn't punch it in the end zone and settled for another Godfrey field goal, this one from 22 yards out to go into the locker room down 21-6.
German found James in the middle of the field for a 68-yard reception down to the UTM 17 on the first play of the second half. The drive ended on a missed Godfrey field goal from the 29-yard line that was wide left.
A German interception late in the third quarter gave the Skyhawks a short field at the TSU 36 and set up their fourth touchdown on the day, a one-yard run from D.J. McNeil, to put UTM up 28-6 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
The eight wins for Tennessee State are the most since finishing 8-4 during the 2008 season. The last time TSU won more than eight games in an 11 game regular season was 1999.
GAME NOTES: Travis James ends his career with 1,698 receiving yards, fifth most all-time in TSU history. He finished the season with a team best 55 catches for 730 yards ... Trabis Ward had 309 carries (tied with Jordan McCord of Colgate for the most in the FCS) for 1,422 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on the season. Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State (315) and Stefphon Jefferson of Nevada (313) are the only players in all four divisions of college football to have more carries than Ward ... German threw for 2,751 yards as a sophomore, the fourth most in a single season for the Tigers. Brian Ransom, Shannon Harris and Leon Murray are the only QB's to throw for more yards in a single-season. He now has 4,640 yards in his career, sixth best in school history.
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