The Red Raiders defeated Stephen F. Austin on Saturday by a score of 28-22. The win was not only Tech’s 22nd straight home-opening win, but was also head football coach Matt Wells’ 10th overall win since joining Texas Tech.
The defense made key plays in stopping the Lumberjacks from outscoring with multiple tackles from junior interior defensive lineman Jaylon Hutchings.
Some key players from this game were junior running back Xavier White, junior wide receiver Erik Ezukanma and sophomore running back Tahj Brooks, who all aided in the Red Raider victory.
Brooks had two touchdowns during the four-quarter game and gave the Red Raiders the lead they needed to win the game. Ezukanma and junior quarterback Tyler Shough worked together to have multiple completed passes, which gave the Red Raiders opportunities to score.
On the other side of the ball, the defense made multiple big plays to stop the Lumberjacks from scoring, with their defensive effort most vividly seen in junior interior defensive lineman Jaylon Hutchings, whose ability to rush the passer helped disrupt SFA quarterback Trae Self.
The full capacity stadium experienced staffing issues with its gameday operations because more than 50 percent of part-time staff did not come to work, according to a Tech Athletics news release.
It did not take long for the Red Raiders to get on the scoreboard, as starting quarterback Tyler Shough and wide receiver Erik Ezukanma connected on a 75-yard touchdown only three plays after receiving the opening kickoff and with 13 minutes left in the first quarter.
Ezukanma, a 6-foot-3 junior from Fort Worth, hauled in seven receptions for 179 yards in the Red Raiders season opener against The University of Houston but failed to record a touchdown. Only one drive into Tech’s contest against SFA, Ezukanma ended that short-lived drought.
SFA quarterback Trae Self led the Lumberjacks on an 88-yard drive down into the red zone, but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-four caused a turnover on downs and allowed the Red Raiders to take over.
The Red Raiders were unable to move the chains, however, with a 3-yard rush by sophomore Tahj Brooks being followed by two passes thrown toward Ezukanma that resulted in no gain.
Despite getting the ball back after only four plays on defense, SFA committed yet another three-and-out. Tech’s defense forced SFA into a third-and-four before defensive back DeMarcus Fields tackled SFA wide receiver Darryle Simmons a yard short of the first-down marker.
After two straight three-and-outs by both offenses, the Red Raiders next drive was even shorter. A 3-yard run by Brooks started the drive, but a Shough pass intended for Ezukanma was intercepted by SFA’s starting cornerback Willie Roberts on the 18-yard line and returned for a pick six.
Tech responded to the SFA touchdown by gaining a first down on three short plays before the close of the first quarter, but Shough opened the second quarter with three consecutive incomplete passes to return possession to the Lumberjacks.
SFA began their first drive of the second quarter with a 13-yard completion, a play that resulted in Tech defensive back Adrian Fry leaving the field with trainers after an apparent injury.
The Red Raiders' defense forced SFA into a punt a few plays later, but Tech’s returner McLane Mannix muffed the ball, and it was quickly pounced on by SFA players for the Red Raiders' second turnover of the game.
After the fumble, SFA began the drive only 23 yards away from the end zone. The Lumberjacks were only able to reach the 6-yard line, though, as Tech’s senior linebacker Colin Schooler hurried SFA quarterback Self into an incomplete pass on third down.
With 10 minutes and 15 seconds left in the first half, SFA’s kicker Chris Campos sent one through the uprights to give the Lumberjacks their first lead of the game and alter the score to 10-7. This was the Lumberjacks' first lead of the game.
Shough ran for 13 yards to give the Red Raiders a first-down with nine minutes left in the half. Afterwards, Shough completed a pass to Brooks for seven yards, but his short-lived completion streak came to an end after an incomplete pass to Ezukanma forced a fourth down.
SFA began the next drive on their own 17-yard line, but quarterback Trae Self completed six of eight passes to lead the Lumberjack offense to the red zone. Tech’s defense was able to prevent a touchdown, though, forcing SFA to settle for a 35-yard field goal that improved their lead to 13-7.
The Red Raiders had seemingly had one last chance to score before the end of the first half when they received the ball on the 25-yard line with one minute and 23 seconds left.
White started the drive with a 6-yard run, then Shough connected with Ezukanma for a 12-yard gain and a first down on the following play. Shough then rushed for 6 yards to advance to the 50, but threw an interception into the hands of SFA cornerback Myles Brooks to end the first half on the next play.
SFA started the second half with the ball and began their drive from the 23-yard line, but the Red Raider defense forced them to punt it away just over a minute into the second half.
Once the Red Raiders regained possession, they relied on their running backs again to give the offense some momentum. This tactic turned out to be the right one, as Brooks broke free for a 67-yard touchdown run and gave the Red Raiders a 14-13 lead.
Tech’s defense was close to forcing another three-and-out, forcing SFA’s quarterback Self to scramble outside of the pocket. Despite getting tripped up, Self was able to complete a pass to receiver Austin Ogunmakin and move the chains. Tech’s defense held strong though, forcing SFA to end the drive with a punt soon after.
SFA’s punter Max Quick helped out the Lumberjack defense by giving them good field position after a punt that forced Tech to begin their next drive on the two-yard line. The lack of insurance space behind them did not affect the Red Raiders offense though, with a few key runs from Brooks and White moving them to the red zone.
Among those runs were two first-down conversions by White that advanced the Red Raiders to the 6-yard line, allowing teammate Brooks to carry the ball to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, giving Tech a 21-13 lead over the Lumberjacks.
SFA had a chance to shrink the Red Raiders' lead in the next drive, but a pivotal pass breakup by Schooler caused a turnover on downs and gave Shough and the offense the ball on the 42-yard line, with a little over a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Tech’s offense was unable to improve their lead though, with Tyler Shough getting strip-sacked on 4th down, ending their possession and giving the ball over to SFA just 26 yards away from the end zone after a favorable bounce during the fumble.
The Lumberjacks were able to capitalize on the favorable field position and successfully shortened the lead shortly after the beginning fourth quarter due to a touchdown by running back Jaquarion Turner.
SFA was unable to convert on the two-point conversion due to a successful snuff-out by linebacker Jacob Morgenstern, preventing the Lumberjacks from tying and instead limiting the score to 21-19 in Tech’s favor.
Tech’s offense responded to the SFA score with a 45-yard reception by Ezukanma that put them eight yards away from the end zone, a figure that shrank to four after SFA was called for a “too many men on the field” penalty. White capitalized on the next play and rushed the ball into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run, improving Tech’s lead to 28-19.
SFA responded by quickly moving into field goal range and were held to only that after a sack by Tech linebacker Krishon Merriweather forced a 3rd-and-15, which the Lumberjacks could not convert on. The SFA field goal shortened the Red Raiders' lead to 28-22.
Tech failed to improve their lead on the next drive, instead committing another three-and-out and returning the ball to SFA. Lumberjacks quarterback Trae Self almost gave possession back to the Red Raiders by throwing to the hands of Tech defensive back Reggie Pearson, but last week’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Week was unable to secure the interception.
Self shrugged off the almost-crucial turnover and led SFA down the field to within 10 yards from the end zone with just under two minutes to play. With their backs against the end zone, the Red Raiders defensive line made a trio of crucial plays to force a 4th-and-goal from the seven yard line.
First, Tech’s junior interior defensive lineman Jaylon Hutchings blew up a run play and turned it into a 1-yard loss to cause a second-and-11, and then followed with a pivotal sack to force a 3rd and goal from the 17-yard line.
On the next play, despite heavy pressure from Tech’s defensive line yet again, SFA’s quarterback was able to scramble for 10 yards and put the Lumberjacks on the 7-yard line for one final play.
With one last chance to keep SFA from reaching the end zone and taking the lead with under a minute to go, Tech’s defensive line created pressure yet again and forced Self into a poor throw. After the turnover on downs, the Red Raiders were able to take a knee and end the game with a final score of 28-22.
The Red Raiders will continue their home slate against Florida International at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18. This will be their last non-conference game of the season.