The Tennessee State University football team traveled across town to play at Vanderbilt University for the Commodores’ homecoming game on Saturday evening. The Tigers jumped out to a 14-7 first quarter lead, but eventually dropped the contest to Vanderbilt by a final score of 35-17. The two teams, playing for just the second time and the first time since 2006, played for 31,084 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium, many of them TSU supporters, as well as for a nationally televised audience on ESPNU.
TSU quarterback Ronald Butler totaled 325 yards on offense, rushing for 40 yards and throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Patrick Smith was on the receiving end of both scoring passes. The first came on the second play of the game as Smith caught the Butler pass in stride at his own 38 yard line and outran the Vandy defense into the end zone to give TSU an early 7-0 lead.
The 93 yard scoring play tied for the second longest in the FCS this season and the longest in the Ohio Valley Conference. The play also tied for the second longest in school history, matching a Joe Gilliam, Jr. to Joe Sweet connection on Nov. 22, 1969.
For the home standing homecoming Commodores Khari Blasingame ran for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns for Vanderbilt as they improved their season record to 4-4, keeping them in the hunt for a post-season bowl game, provided they can win two more games this season. As a team, Vanderbilt rushed for a total of 385 yards, and outgained TSU 501-410 yards overall.
After Vanderbilt evened the score at 7-7, Smith hauled in his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard reception to put the Tigers on top, 14-7. Smith finished with seven receptions for 170 yards, averaging 24.3 yards per catch, earning OVC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Smith now has eight touchdowns on the season and 18 in 17 games over two years.
Vanderbilt answered midway through the second quarter making the score 14-14. The Tigers replied with a 37 yard Lane Clark field goal to put the Big Blue back on top at 17-14. The lead was the last for TSU as Vanderbilt moved 78 yards in five plays for a 21-17 advantage with 1:46 remaining in the half.
At halftime, the TSU Aristocrat of Bands thrilled the crowd with a scintillating performance in their new reflex blue uniforms. After that it was all downhill for TSU, as Vandy held the Tigers scoreless while adding a touchdown in each of the last two quarters.
“We expected to win,” said TSU Linebacker Justin North. “We didn’t come into the game thinking we were going to lose because of the brand and the name they carry. I feel like we did a pretty good job, better than what most people expected.”
With only their second loss, the first being a one-point decision, 35-34, at Eastern Illinois, the Tigers fell to 5-2 overall, 2-1 in conference on the season, still in the hunt for a post-season berth as well. This was the first game all season the Tigers scored fewer than 30 points.
“I thought we played well,” TSU Defensive Back David Kamara said after the game. “It just shows that we can compete with anybody. It’s a big confidence booster. The SEC… that’s one of the toughest conferences in college football. We showed we can compete with them, so that’s going to help us moving on to the OVC.”
The Tigers return to conference play at Murray State Oct. 29., with kickoff set for 3:00 pm. The Tigers then have road trips to Autin Peay on Nov. 5 and SEMO on Nov. 19.
Their final regular season home game is Nov. 12 in Hale Stadium for Senior Day versus Tennessee Tech at 3:00 pm. Listen live to all TSU games on FM 102.1 The Light.