MARTIN, TN – Leatherneck football kicked off a new season and era on Thursday evening, despite ultimately falling short against the #15 University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks 42-25.
This marks the debut for WIU head coach Myers Hendrickson, who navigated his team through a tough match against a Skyhawk squad that was the Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite, before UT-Martin eventually pulled away in the second half.
Western took the opening drive into Skyhawk territory, but a fourth-down stop at the 43 would stall the drive, giving UT-Martin the ball and six plays later the first score of the game, making the score 7-0. They would keep the lead going late into the first quarter, but a big stop on a fourth and four by WIU linebackers Anthony Quinney and Cole Watts would give the Leathernecks the ball back.
Western then marched the ball 73 yards on five plays, tying the game 7-7 early in the second quarter after a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Henry Ogala to receiver Jafar Armstrong and the PAT by kicker Mason Laramie.
UT-Martin would answer shortly after with another score of their own on a 34-yard pass, and another on the last play of the half on a 48-yard strike from quarterback Dresser Winn to receiver Colton Dowell, stretching the lead to 21-7.
The Skyhawks stretched the lead to three scores with a touchdown in the third but the Leathernecks were readying a rally, led by quarterback Nick Davenport and receiver Naseim Brantley, who would post the next WIU touchdown on a pass for 51 yards and a blocked field goal would make it 28-13.
UT-Martin would respond with another score, stretching the lead to 35-13. Davenport and Brantley answered again with a 44-yard touchdown making it 35-19, but the Skyhawks posted another score of their own making it a 42-19 game. WIU would turn to Davenport and Brantley again, capping the score at 42-25.
The Leathernecks finished the night with 405 total yards on offense – 120 rushing and 285 through the air. UT-Martin ended with 577 yards, 317 passing and 260 on the ground. The Leathernecks forced one turnover on an interception by defensive back JJ Ross, but giving away two interceptions themselves.
Western Illinois will travel to Minneapolis next Saturday to play against the Golden Gophers in an 11 a.m match.