NASHVILLE --- Tennessee State opened the 2016 season in dominating fashion as they shutout Arkansas-Pine Bluff 44-0 in the 18th Annual John Merritt Classic. The performance marked the first time the Tigers held an opponent scoreless in the JMC and the first time since defeating Butler 31-0 in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs in 2013.
The defense was able to hold the Golden Lions to 168 total yards and just 49 yards rushing. It is the lowest opponent total since holding Tennessee Tech to 150 yards on Sept. 20, 2014.
Ebenezer Ogundeko was named Defensive Player of the Classic after collecting two sacks and five tackles, four solos. The junior was in the UAPB backfield the entire game and was credited with a Quarter Back Hurry.
Offensively, the Tigers started slow and settled for a pair of field goals to take a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The junior hit from 43 and 23 yards out, before tacking on a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Leading 6-0, the Tigers would get rolling as the opened their sixth possession with a 44-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive. Ronald Butler was able to tap the bomb from O’Shay Ackerman-Carter to himself just before entering the end zone for his first catch and receiving touchdown of his career.
The senior has played his first three seasons as a reserve quarterback for TSU. Butler started to receive reps at wide out early in camp.
The Tallahassee, Fla. native entered the game at quarterback with just over two minutes remaining in the third stanza. He went on to rush for 27 yards on three carries, including a 10 yard scoring run to make the produce the final score.
Ackerman-Carter was named the Classics Offensive Player of the Game as he hit seven separate receivers completing 18-of-32 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore teamed up with Patrick Smith for a 30-yard scoring play, giving the Tigers leading receiver from 2015 his first touchdown of the year and 11th in his career.
Smith pulled in six receptions for 100 yards to lead all receivers. Freshman Steven Newbold impressed in his debut as he pulled in five receptions for 74 yards.
On the ground, eight Tigers carried the ball totaling 202 yards on 38 carries. Erick Evans topped the Big Blue with 67 yards on 13 touches. TSU also received a solid performance from true-freshman Sabree Curtis who ran for 48 yards on seven attempts. Evans and Curtis each crossed the goal line for the Big Blue.
Evans entered the end zone 31 seconds before half time to give TSU a 20-0 lead heading into the break.
The Tigers opened second half by kicking out of bounds giving UAPB the ball on their own 48. The Golden Lions would work their way down to the 13 yard line and faced a 4th and one. Ogundeko was the first to hit Brandon Duncan, before Chris Collins and a slew of Tiger defenders joined in to stuff the UAPB runner short and turning the ball over on downs.
TSU did not waste the defensive stand as they marched down the field for a nine play, 87 yard drive, which was capped off by Smith’s touchdown, extending the lead to 27-0.
The Tigers continued to attack UAPB on the next drive as Curtis made the score 34-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Mitchell Boudreaux popped up a shallow kick allowing Trevion Duncan a clear shot at the ball carrier, forcing a fumble. Blair Edwards came up with the ball, which led to Clark’s final field goal of the evening and a 37-0 advantage.
The Tigers improve to 1-0 and will head to Memphis next week for a matchup with Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic.
GAME NOTES: TSU won the coin toss and choose to receive the opening kickoff… TSU’s captains for the game were Lane Clark, O’Shay Ackerman-Carter, Thomas Burton and Chris Collins… Weather was sunny and 84 degrees at time of kickoff… Official kickoff was at 6:02 p.m. … The official attendance for the game was 15,078… Offensive MVP: O’Shay Ackerman-Carter… Defensive MVP: Ebo Ogundeko… TSU’s defense recorded the first shutout in the history of the John Merritt Classic… TSU improves to 13-5 in all-time John Merritt Classic games… TSU’s last shutout was a 31-0 win over Butler in the first round of the FCS Playoffs on Nov. 30, 2013… Senior Ronald Butler’s first collegiate catch was a 44-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Butler spent his first three seasons as a quarterback for TSU… Lane Clark’s 47-yard field goal in the first quarter tied for the third longest in his collegiate career… Patrick Smith recorded 100 yards receiving for the fifth time in his career.
TSU Wide Receiver Patrick Smith
“It’s a statement game. It lets every team know that we’re coming. This year’s Tennessee State program is going to score a lot of points, and we’re going to shut people out. We’re prepared for anyone.”
- On scoring 44 points
“In the beginning, some of the things we usually run, we were a little bit slow on them. Our run game has gotten better and passing-wise, I feel like we can be a really big threat in this conference, against anybody we play.”
- On what worked for the offense
Defensive MVP Ebo Ogundeko
“It was a great game. The whole camp, we worked hard just to do this. It’s not really about the defense, it’s more about the whole team. We complimented each other well. The coaches, they prepared us for this. This is a totally different team from last year, and we’re just ready to move on to next game.”
- On getting a shutout
Offensive Coordinator Jeff Parker
“Our main focus was we wanted to come out and try to run the ball. It just so happened that they came down and tried to stop the run. We were able to get some over-the-top throws. The offense played well tonight.”
- On scoring 44 points
“With the run game working, they had to come down to stop the run. That really opened up the passing game for us, and O’Shay (Ackerman-Carter) does a great job of finding the open receivers.”
- On what worked offensively