Nashville, Tn – Junior running back Tom Smith found solid footing on a soggy opening night, leading Tennessee State past Edward Waters, 58-6, in the 16th annual John Merritt Classic on Saturday night.
Smith had 151 yards on 12 carries and added four touchdowns en route to being named the Offensive MVP.
Smith’s four rushing scores were the most for a Tiger since Trabis Ward’s four against Southeast Missouri on Oct. 13th, 2012.
Anthony Bass was named the game’s Defensive MVP after recording four stops, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
Bass anchored a defensive unit that only allowed 76 yards of total offense, five first downs and did not give up any points.
The Tennessee State offense got off to a slow start, fumbling on the first play from scrimmage and then committing three straight false start penalties.
TSU finally found the end zone at the 5:31 mark, as German hit fellow senior Je-Marc Sears with a short pass and then the tight end ran the rest of the way for a 24-yard touchdown. The rain soaked turf caused a bad hold on the point after, so TSU was forced to settle with a 6-0 lead.
A Bernell Brooks interception later in the first set up a 23-yard Carter field goal, and the Tigers held a 9-0 lead with only a minute to go in the first.
Tennessee State’s special teams produced a big play to kick off the second period as De’Ante Saunders ran back a punt for a score, making the score 16-0 with just over 12 minutes to play before halftime.
Saunders’s punt return for a touchdown was TSU’s first since Oct. 8th, 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 – two of the eight combined first half turnovers.
Transfer running back Tom Smith and Stephen Hopkins combined for 127 yards on 10 carries and two scores in the second quarter, and TSU led EWC 30-6 at the break.
The TSU defense was impregnable in the opening 30 minutes, only allowing 18 yards of total offense, including negative-one on the ground, and only one first down.
Smith scored two more touchdowns within the first five minutes of the second half to put TSU up by 38 and the Tigers forced their fifth turnover to close out the third quarter.
After another turnover late in the stanza, Martin Stevenson took the first play of the fourth period 17 yards for a touchdown and finished the contest with 92 yards on 10 carries.
Running back Greg White added a late score as part of his 98-yard day and the Tigers walked away with a 52-point victory.
There were a total of 11 turnovers in the contest and TSU committed 18 penalties for 102 yards.
The Tigers will hit the road next weekend for a date with the Hornets of Alabama State. Kickoff is scheduled for Sept. 7th at 4:00pm.