The Eastern Kentucky University football team rushed for a season-high 246 yards and four touchdowns in its 31-21 Homecoming victory over the University of Tennessee at Martin on Saturday afternoon at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Trailing 7-3 at halftime, the Colonels exploded in the second half, running for 142 yards and all of their touchdowns in the final 30 minutes of play.
Three different EKU running backs found pay dirt in the Colonels’ dominant second half.
Sophomore Daryl McCleskey Jr. led EKU’s dynamic ground attack, turning 22 carries into a career-high 137 yards and a touchdown. Junior Ethan Thomas went for 48 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Jason Lewis added 18 yards and a score.
The Skyhawks entered the game leading the conference in rushing defense at 79.3 yards allowed on the ground per game.
EKU’s lone score of the first half came early in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Tim Boyle converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 33-yard pass to junior wide receiver Neiko Creamer, setting up the Colonels on the UTM 20-yard line. On the next play, McClesky Jr. busted a 14-yard run around the right edge. Senior kicker Lucas Williams capped the drive with a 25-yard field goal, making it 3-0 with 9:07 remaining in the first stanza.
EKU led 3-0 for most of the first half, until UTM quarterback Dresser Winn found Jaylon Moore down the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown with 4:50 left until halftime. The score sent the Skyhawks into the locker room at the break up 7-3.
The defense sparked the Colonels in the second half. Early in the third quarter, with UTM pinned deep inside EKU territory, Winn fumbled the ball and sophomore defensive tackle Connor Foos scooped it up at the five-yard line. On the next play, Lewis pounded it into pay dirt to give the Colonels a 10-7 lead with 9:07 on the clock.
UTM’s Peyton Logan, however, returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to give the lead right back to the Skyhawks, 14-10.
Eastern responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by Thomas with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.
UTM muffed the resulting kickoff, and sophomore wideout Matt Clark recovered the ball at the Skyhawks’ 29 yard line. Five plays later, Thomas took it in again, this time from six yards out to make it 24-14 with 2:17 left in the third.
EKU continued to pile it on early in the fourth quarter, as the Colonels’ first drive of the stanza ended with an eight-yard touchdown scamper to the left pylon by McCleskey Jr., making it 31-14 with 12:40 on the clock.
UT Martin (3-4, 1-3 OVC) cut into the lead with a 24-yard touchdown hookup between Troy Cook and Londell Lee with 6:04 remaining; however, it was too little, too late for the Skyhawks, as the Colonels responded with a 10-play, six-minute drive to the UTM three-yard line that expired the clock.
The visitors began the day first in the Ohio Valley Conference and fifth in the nation in total defense (271 yards per game), but the Eastern offense totaled 331 total yards.
UTM running back Ladarius Galloway entered the game leading the conference and eighth in the nation with 104.8 rushing yards per game. He finished with just 41 yards.
Eastern forced three turnovers and did not give the ball away at all. Jeffrey Canady had a team-best six tackles. Corey Glass finished with five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
The Colonels (2-5, 2-3 OVC) return to action next Saturday, Oct. 28, at Murray State. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET.
The most rushing yards EKU has had in a game this season is 124, it had 104 yards at halftime today and finished with 229 yards on the ground.
Neiko Creamer hauled in a 33-yard catch from Tim Boyle in the first quarter, the longest reception of his career.
Keith Wrzuszczak’s 84-yard punt to open the second quarter is the longest of his career and breaks the record for the longest punt in school history, previously set at 78 yards by Bob Plotts versus Tampa in 1966. The punt is the longest in all of FCS football this season and the second-longest in all of college football in 2017, only trailing Marshall’s Zaare Vedvik’s 92-yarder.
Daryl McCleskey’s 36-yard rush in the second quarter tied the season-high rush for the Colonels this season, also set by McCleskey against Tennessee State.
Ben Bascom found the first interception of his career at a crucial point in the second quarter to regain Colonel possession.
Jason Lewis rushed five yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. This is the second time he has found pay dirt in his career as a Colonel.
Ethan Thomas rushed for two touchdowns in a total of 2:32 to score his second and third of the season and rack up nine in his career.
McCleskey’s touchdown in the fourth quarter marked the second time he has found the end zone this season, the sixth time in his career.
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