The University of Tennessee at Martin football team completed its first scrimmage of the spring practice schedule in front of scattered fans throughout Hardy Graham Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The Skyhawks made the most of their ninth practice of the schedule, completing the first of three scheduled intrasquad scrimmages on a cool, breezy afternoon. After transitioning through 10 periods of the practice plan, the Skyhawks shifted focus to scenarios throughout the field and varying lines of scrimmage.
Both sides of the ball would find success throughout the scrimmage with the defense holding a strong grip on the first half of the afternoon before the offensive unit found its rhythm as the day went on. The Skyhawk defense would allow a handful of first downs but would keep the offense out of the endzone for more than 50 plays to start the afternoon.
The afternoon would start with the offensive unit pinned on their one yard line. The defense would take advantage of the prime territory as the duo of James Gilleylen and Malik Harris each recorded a safety with tackles for loss. The defense would continue making great strides leading to an interception by newcomer Antonio Clifton to cap off another strong defensive stand.
After the string of defensive stands, running back Najee Ray would break through a hole on the right side of the line and scamper 43 yards into the endzone for the Skyhawks first score of the afternoon. Following the breakout score, the offense would close out the day strong, tallying four subsequent touchdowns to cap the scrimmage.
“These reps are invaluable,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “This experience will help carry us into the fall and into the season. The emphasis was to be simple and just play ball. We didn’t want to confuse our inexperienced quarterbacks. They made some good plays, but also made some mistakes that we will be able to watch the tape and correct. I told the guys that we have the chance to make tremendous strides next week just by watching what we did today.”
With a quarterback battle currently underway in Skyhawk camp, both returner Troy Cook and Marshall transfer Gunnar Holcombe split reps throughout the day. Cook completed nine passes for 63 yards and zero touchdowns. Holcombe made the most of his seven completions, tallying 102 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Akin and Ian Leggett also saw reps, tossing a touchdown each.
Highlighting offensive skill position leaders were Jaimiee Bowe and Kyle Kerrick. Bowe led the ground attack with 92 yards, including an 80-yard carry. Kerrick also excelled with 79 reception yards and a pair of touchdown receptions. Walk-on Zac Graham tallied the team’s other score, a 14-yard touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, four Skyhawks tallied sacks on the afternoon. Ervin Alston and Trey Warren split a sack while Keith and Joseph Jones each tallied a sack on their own. Clifton tallied the team’s lone interception while four players tallied pass breakups.
UT Martin will return to the practice field with three dates next week. The Skyhawks will practice on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons before competing in the program’s annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 16. Saturday’s Spring Game is open to the public and is scheduled to get underway at approximately 10 a.m.