By Clay Ward
The Colonels (9-2, 8-0 OVC) sealed its first Ohio Valley Conference championship title since 1997 and eighth-straight victory in a close 38-24 win Saturday over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (4-7, 2-6 OVC). Eastern took a head start only 1:39 into the game on the sixth play of the opening drive. Holland threw a 50-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Williams. Kicker Taylor Long tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 Colonel lead.
Tennessee Tech cut the Colonel lead to 7-3 six minutes later with a 45-yard field goal by Justin Kraemer.
With the Golden Eagles coming from behind, Eastern responded.
With 7:46 left in the first half, the Colonels pushed to the end zone on a 10-play, 80-yard drive covering 61 yards on the ground, ending with a 4-yard Dunn rushing touchdown. A Long extra point kept the Colonels ahead 14-3.
The Colonels regained possession with 1:20 on the clock after a missed 47-yard Golden Eagle field goal attempt. Eastern was forced to punt, but a Tech fumble on the punt return gave the Colonels a first down at the Golden Eagle 12-yard line.
Holland completed a pass to Williams on the third play for an 8-yard touchdown run, giving Eastern an 18-point lead with 13:50 left in the first half.
A blocked Colonel punt gave Tech a great field position on Eastern’s 31-yard line. Golden Eagle quarterback Lee Sweeney completed a pass to Larry Shipp on the first play for a Tech touchdown, drawing the Golden Eagles within 21-10.
Two Tech turnovers gave the Colonels 14 points in the first half. Eastern also covered 122 yards on the ground in comparison to the Golden Eagles’ 38.
The third quarter proved significant for Tech as they closed the Colonels gap to 11 points with a score and extra point minutes before the quarter’s end. A 4th-and-10 situation was successfully met with a 37-yard pass from Sweeney to Shipp that ended on Eastern’s second yard line. Tech’s Cass Barnes scored the two-yard touchdown closing the Colonels’ gap 28-17 with 3:44 left in the third. But the Colonels wouldn’t let the Golden Eagles get too close.
Eastern senior linebacker Justin Curry blocked Tech’s punt for a 23-yard line advantage in the final minutes of the third. The Colonels extended its lead to 31-17 with a 22-yard field goal at beginning of the fourth quarter.
With 2:14 left in the game, Dunn tacked on his third touchdown of the game, taking it up the middle for nine yards.
Tech topped off the scoring as Shipp received a 40-yard touchdown pass with less than four seconds left on the clock to finalize the score, 38-24.
Shipp, an all-conference receiver from Memphis, tied Tech’s single-season record with 10 touchdown receptions, broke the school record of most touchdowns with 15, points scored at 90 and passed the career receiving mark. He ends his career ranked third in OVC history with 195 receptions and fourth with 2,950 yards.
Eastern quarterback Allan Holland completed 22-of-35 passes for 194 yards with two touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Quinton Williams. The Colonels leading rusher, senior running back Mark Dunn, scored three rushing touchdowns. Senior cornerback Derrick Huff was absent from play due to an ankle injury on his right foot.
The Colonels also extended their NCAA best turnover martin to +22 and senior running back Bobby Washington sailed past the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 65 yards on 19 carries. The win gives the Colonels the sole ownership of the OVC championship and first in a decade.
After securing the NCAA Division I playoff bid last week, the 12th nationally-ranked Colonels will find out its first-round competition and if it will play host to the playoff game tomorrow afternoon.
“I would hope (we’d get a first-round home game),” Eastern Head Coach Danny Hope said. “I know our administration has been very aggressive with its bid. We hope we will get a home game. It would be big for our football team and it would be a real boost to Richmond and all of Madison County.”
The FCS playoff selection show airs on ESPNU Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The playoffs are scheduled to begin Friday, Nov. 23.