Junior transfer running back Tom Smith found solid footing on a soggy opening night for his team and for himself as a Tiger, leading Tennessee State University in a rout of Edward Waters College in the 16th annual John Merritt Classic. It was reminiscent of the John Merritt glory days, as the Tigers ran all over their opponents, winning by a final score of 58-6. The official attendance was only 10,541 Saturday night at L.P. Field.
Smith, a transfer from Tennessee, had 151 yards on 12 carries including four touchdowns en route to being named the game’s Offensive MVP. The 5’11”, 205-pound Apopka, Fla. native was named Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week. His performance helped the Tigers rack up 439 total rushing yards on the game, a new team single-game record. The rainy wet conditions limited passing yardage to a miniscule (for a TSU team) 71 yards. Ironically, a 71-yard INT return yielded the only score by EWC.
Anthony Bass was named the game’s Defensive MVP after recording four stops, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception. The TSU defense only allowed 76 yards of total offense, five first downs and did not give up any points. The 6-3, 240 pounder from Clarksville, Tenn. was named OVC Defensive Player of the Week.
The TSU offense started slow, fumbling on the first play from scrimmage and then committing three straight false start penalties before QB Mike German hit fellow senior Je-Marc Sears for a 24-yard touchdown. The rain-soaked turf caused a bad hold on the PAT, yielding a 6-0 TSU lead.
A Bernell Brooks interception set up a 23-yard Cameron Carter field goal. De’Ante Saunders ran back a punt 45 yards for TSU’s first punt return for a touchdown since Oct. 8, 2011 when Weldon Garlington scampered 91 yards against Southeast Missouri.
Javon Brandon and reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year Bass each recorded their first career interceptions in the second quarter. Smith and fellow RB Stephen Hopkins combined for 127 yards on 10 carries and two scores in the second quarter, and TSU led EWC 30-6 at halftime.
Smith scored two more touchdowns early in the second half to put TSU up by 38 to close out the third quarter. RB Martine Stevenson took the first play of the fourth period 17 yards for a touchdown and finished the contest with 92 yards on 10 carries. RB Greg White added a late score as part of his 98-yard day and the Big Blue Tigers cruised to the 52-point victory.
The Tigers are the road against the Hornets of Alabama State in Montgomery on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 4 pm in the New ASU Stadium (26,500); and against Jackson State in Memphis on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 6 pm in the Liberty Bowl, before hosting Tennessee Tech in Hale Stadium on Saturday, Sept 20 at 2 pm, and FAMU for Homecoming on Saturday, Sept. 27 in L.P. Field at 6 pm.