Quarterback Chris Nickson had a strong day, completing 9 of 13 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore threw one interception and rushed for 49 yards and another touchdown. Redshirt freshman quarterback Mackenzi Adams saw his first career action late in the fourth quarter, orchestrating a 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive capped by a six-yard run by fellow redshirt-freshman Jared Hawkins. It was Hawkins’ first career touchdown.
Junior tailback Cassen Jackson-Garrison led the ’Dores on the ground with 14 carries for 71 yards, followed by redshirt freshman Jared Hawkins, who ran for 54 yards and a touchdown.
While the Commodore offense had a good night, the defense was stellar. Defensive Coordinator Bruce Fowler’s squad was led by redshirt junior Curtis Gatewood, who had six unassisted tackles (nine total), one sack for a six-yard loss, and one quarterback hurry. Redshirt junior Kevin Joyce and redshirt senior Jonathan Goff each recorded a sack, and redshirt sophomore Reshard Langford had an interception and a fumble recovery.
Vanderbilt started its first drive of the game with good field position, but failed to score when sophomore place kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt’s 19-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide to the left. The next Commodore drive also stalled deep in Tiger territory, but the ’Dores finally got on the board when quarterback Chris Nickson threw a five-yard touchdown pass to senior Marlon White later in the first quarter. Hahnfeldt kicked a 26-yard field goal on the next possession to make the score 10-0. The Tigers converted an interception into a 25-yard field goal to make the score 10-3 at the end of the half.
The game quickly slipped away from TSU late in the third quarter, a momentum shift that began with a rare interception from within the other team’s end zone. Under heavy pressure from linebacker Goff, TSU quarterback Antonio Heffner threw a pass from within his own endzone that was batted and ultimately intercepted by nearby Marcus Buggs for a touchdown. A fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to a Chris Nickson six-yard touchdown run on the next play, making the score 24-3. Then Vanderbilt’s Reshard Langford snagged an interception, which led to Nickson’s 33-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Earl Bennett in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. The extra point ended a 21-point barrage in under 2:15 seconds.
On Marcus Buggs’ Third Quarter Touchdown:
“That play really got us out of the doldrums. It was a big momentum changer and gave us a little breathing room. Marcus really did a great job of getting his foot down for the touchdown.”
On TSU’s Antonio Heffner:
“We were trying to account for him. They do a good job of using his talents. He’s got a very fine arm.”
On the instant replay reviews:
“I like the system. We need to get it right, that’s the bottom line. I never argue with a replay call. I think they do a good job with it.”
On the team’s first win of the year:
“We are happy, no doubt about it. It’s fun to win, but it’s hard. You have to execute and beat the other team. We did it, and they are thrilled about it. When you haven’t won it seems like every mistake you make on the field is magnified. That was happening a little in the second quarter. So, we settled down and played the second half much more relaxed.”
On the historical significance of the game:
“We talked about the significance of the game before hand. But I really liked TSU because I knew they’d be fired up about it. They really played hard.”
Broderick Stewart (90), Theo Horrocks (top), Jonathan Goff (47) and Marcus Buggs (24) close in on TSU QB Antonio Heffner. (VU/ Neil Brake)