Jackets pick up first win over WCU

Photo by Caitlin Aycock Student Publications

Five days after a tough loss to No. 4 Clemson, Tech football defeated Western Carolina (WCU) 35-17 on the night of Saturday, Sept. 10, breaking its seven-game losing streak since last October. Despite the rainy start to the game and a tough matchup early in the week, the Jackets kept up with the Catamounts score by score before pulling ahead in the second quarter and maintaining their lead through the end. 

The first quarter began strong for the Catamounts, with junior quarterback Carlos Davis throwing a 49-yard pass over the middle to Terrence Horne for an early touchdown. 

The following drive by Tech had a rocky start, with sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims making a few incomplete passes. 

Sims made two significant rushing gains later in the drive and junior running back Dontae Smith secured Tech the first touchdown of the night, tying the game with 8:22 to go in the first quarter.

Tech defense allowed some significant gains for the Catamounts throughout the game, often being caught in the pocket and allowing WCU’s receivers and freshman running back Desmond Reid to be wide open. On the second drive of the game, Davis completed a 30-yard pass to Reid. At 6:02 left in the first quarter, Davis completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Toler Keigley for the last Catamount touchdown of the night. 

On the following four-play, 58-second drive by Tech, Sims completed a 17-yard pass and rushed for a nine-yard gain before Smith ran for a 51-yard touchdown, pulling Tech even and scoring the final points scored in the first quarter. The final two drives of the quarter saw each team’s quarterback get sacked, and Sims’ seven-yard loss marked the end of the first quarter.  

Tech sophomore defensive back Kenan Johnson downed the ensuing punt on the WCU two-yard line to begin the second quarter. Tech’s defense did not make it easy, with Davis throwing two incomplete passes and being sacked by junior defensive back Jaylon King. Despite two successful rushes by Reid, the drive was ended by Tech’s first interception of the night by junior defensive back Derrik Allen. 

The Jackets kept the momentum with a five-play scoring drive starting at the Tech 40-yard line. At 10:56 in the second quarter, sophomore wide receiver Nate McCollum rushed to the left for 40 yards to score the first rushing touchdown of his career. After freshman kicker Jude Kelley made his third extra point of the night, the scoreboard stood at 21-14 in the Jackets’ favor. 

The next few drives were spent trading punts and penalties until junior defensive back Myles Sims intercepted a pass by Davis at the Catamount 40-yard line after WCU took their final timeout of the half. With just two minutes to go until halftime, Tech scored once again in a quick 39-yard drive. Carolina’s offense fell apart in the last drive of the half, between Davis scrambling out of the backfield on each down and two penalties on the offensive line, leaving the score at 28-14 by halftime. 

With the rain gone and a fast-paced game, the second half began with a colorful drive. While Davis and Reid proved to be a powerful duo on offense, Tech’s defensive line only allowed for incremental advances down the field. In the middle of the drive, the Catamounts fumbled the snap and senior linebacker Ayinde Eley recovered the ball in the third turnover of the night. However, on the first down of Tech’s possession, WCU junior defensive back Rod Gattison intercepted a pass by Sims. Davis continued to scramble, with Tech defense missing two tackles before senior defensive lineman Keion White sacked Davis in the backfield. 

On Tech’s following drive, characterized by excellent blocking and a focus on rushing the ball, junior running back Dylan McDuffie scored Tech’s fifth and final touchdown of the night with 3:55 to go in the third quarter. This also marked McDuffie’s first touchdown as a Jacket following his transfer from Buffalo. As a final nail in the coffin for WCU, Davis was injured in the final drive of the quarter and freshman backup quarterback Cole Gonzales was put in for the rest of the game. 

The final points of the game were put on the board in the beginning of the fourth quarter. WCU redshirt junior Richard McCollum hit a 44-yard field goal to make the score 35-17 with 11:21 left in the game. 

Tech secured their third interception of the night later in the quarter, leading to a missed field goal attempt from 25 yards by Kelley. Despite some missed tackles and points left on the board from the turnover, Tech defense showed a significant improvement from the Clemson game earlier in the week. With the offense’s emphasis on the running game and defense’s strength up front, Tech was able to run up the score and stop WCU from scoring for the entire second and third quarter.

Head Coach Geoff Collins and the Jackets were in high spirits at the post-game press conference, but they were also determined to keep working. When asked about what the team focused on following the loss to Clemson, Collins said, “We told the guys last week that all of the critical mistakes we made last week against the No. 4 team in the country are all fixable mistakes.” 

On the short week, Collins said, “It was a physical game Monday night… [this week] we had to accelerate the process to learn the opponent we’re defending, learn the game plan, and to be ready to go. It’s not easy playing two games in five days.”   

Looking toward next week’s game against Ole Miss, Collins said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do for an ABC matchup next Saturday at 3:30 back here in Bobby Dodd Stadium.”