Through the first five games, Tennessee State proved in it can win in a variety of ways.
Holding onto a big lead. Rallying from behind. Making a late goal-line stand.
Add dramatic fashion to the list.
Quarterback Michael German plunged into the end zone from one yard out with eight seconds left to lift No. 24 TSU to a 23-20 victory over No. 16 Eastern Kentucky on Saturday at Hale Stadium.
The Tigers (6-0, 2-0 Ohio Valley Conference) trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time all season but scored on their last two drives to erase a 10-point deficit. They now sit in sole possession of first place in the OVC and are in the driver’s seat to not only win the league crown but make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The conference champion gets an automatic berth into the 20-team playoffs, which are two months away. But the OVC has also received an at-large bid four of the last six years. TSU last won the conference championship and made the playoffs in 1999.
The Tigers might be one of the more balanced teams in the country. They made that case once again on Saturday.
Dormant for the most of the game, the offense bailed out a defense that didn’t play poorly but just less than an average that stands as one of the best in the country. TSU entered the game ranked fourth in the country in scoring defense (13.4 points a game). Against EKU (4-2, 2-1), it gave up more than 14 points for the first time all season.
Trailing 20-10 more than a minute into the fourth quarter, German and the offense showed a sense of urgency. Two big pass plays and a steady dose of running back Trabis Ward, the Tigers chewed up five minutes and cut the lead to four points.
The defense then offered up some support. Middle linebacker Nick Thrasher, who had 12 tackles and was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Week, set the tone with a big sack on third down. That forced a fourth-and-long that EKU failed to convert.
The offense went back to work, marching 68 yards in 13 plays and converting two third downs. German used back-to-back sneaks to lift the Tigers to victory, converting on fourth-and-1 before diving into the end zone.
His last-second score gave TSU set off a frenzy for the 9,878 in attendance in just the second game at Hale since 1998.
But, more importantly, it gave the Tigers another reason to celebrate in a year full of triumphs of all varieties.
Louisiana-Monroe 31, Middle Tennessee State 17: A week after running at will, the Blue Raiders (3-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) found resistance on the ground. Benny Cunningham only rushed for 62 yards and MTSU committed three crucial turnovers as the Warhawks jumped out to a 21-3 lead and held on.
Murray State 52, Austin Peay 14: Same old story for the lowly Governors (0-6, 0-3 OVC). Instead of going into halftime down by just three, a personal foul penalty boosted the Racers, who scored with 21 seconds left in the half. That sparked 35 unanswered points as the Govs lost their eighth straight.
Jacksonville State 37, Tennessee Tech 28: The Golden Eagles (2-4, 0-3 OVC) had the ball for just 18 minutes, letting an early 14-point lead slip away to lose their fourth straight.
BY THE NUMBERS
15 – career-high tackles by MTSU linebacker Craig Allen.
113 – rushing yards by TSU running back Trabis Ward. The junior now has 1,816 in his career to rank fourth all-time in school history.
41:14 – time of possession for Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks best defense was their offense as they took 90 snaps, 59 going for a run, to keep the ball away from Tennessee Tech.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tennessee State quarterback Michael German
Last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year continues to make big plays and Saturday was no different. He shook off an interception to complete 17 of 27 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown. Poised in the pocket, he guided TSU back from 10 down in the fourth quarter. His quarterback sneak into the end zone with eight seconds capped off an exciting come-from-behind victory for the undefeated Tigers.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“We’re going to enjoy this. ... They might have to make an announcement on the plane because we’re going to party. The Gatorade will be flowing. We’re going to have a great time, get back to Nashville enjoy ourselves and get back to work on Sunday.” – Vanderbilt coach James Franklin after a 19-15 win at Missouri
Vanderbilt grabbed some confidence from a road win but No. 4 Florida is riding high and should bring the Commodores back to earth. ... Perhaps a bye week helped Tennessee with the daunting challenge of going on the road against another resurgent program, No. 19 Mississippi State. ... TSU hopes to stay undefeated as it travels to Southeast Missouri State for the first of four road contests over the last five games. ... MTSU attempts to rebound with a visit to last-place Florida International. ... Austin Peay will keep searching for that elusive first win because, after a loss to TSU, Eastern Kentucky will be looking to unleash some anger.