Football is finally here again, and the UTM football team will kick off their first game of the season at home against Clarion University.
The UTM team will return 13 starters from the 2016 season, 6 on offense and 7 on defense. One of those returning players on offense includes quarterback Troy Cook who finished last season with 2,321 yards, 22 TDs and 12 INTs. Also returning on offense is running back Jaimiee Bowe who ran for 747 yards and seven TDs last year. Defensive leader Kahlid Hagens, who made all OVC first team, will return for the Skyhawks at the safety position. Hagens finished the 2016 season with 93 tackles, four INTs, two forced fumbles and one TD.
UTM lost three starting offensive linemen from last year, but will start three from last year as well, the two positions that are new to fill are Center which has two redshirt Juniors to fill that spot and Right Tackle which has a redshirt Senior and a true Sophomore waiting to fill that spot.
UTM is coming off of a season in which they went undefeated at home (5-0) but had a losing record in away games (2-5), for an overall record of 7-5. The Skyhawks finished second in the OVC with a record of 6-2. UTM was also picked to finish second in the OVC in the 2017 season in the preseason poll voted by the head coaches and sports information directors, in the end receiving the highest preseason ranking since 2009. One thing the team and head coach Jason Simpson will definitely be looking to improve will be the 2-5 away record. Going undefeated at home is always great, but that’s how home games are supposed to go. Cleaning up that away record to even 4-3 would go a long way to improving the teams standing at the end of the year.
Clarion is a team that UTM has never faced before in football. They sit in the PSAC, the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference, and are a Division 2 program. Clarion finished their 2016 season 4-7 and within the conference finished 3-4 (5th). They are returning 12 starters and lost 13 from 2016. One of the 13 lost is quarterback Connor Simmons who set the school record for pass completions (228), yards (3,582), and TDs (34) in a single season back in 2015. Players of note that are returning for the Golden Eagles include Jr. defensive lineman Tyrone Archie who finished the 2016 season with 40 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Sophomore defensive back Tyrone Cromwell finished last year with 3 INTs and 61 tackles. And Jr. linebacker Layne Skundrich tallied up 85 tackles and one sack in the 2016 season. The last time Clarion finished their season as conference champions was 2000 and the last conference championship game they won was in 1983.
On paper, UTM’s football team should handle the Golden Eagles easily enough, a D2 team with a losing record from the previous year coming to a D1 teams home with a winning record from the previous year, but only time will tell. Whatever happens the UTM team and fans will be ready come August 31 at 6 p.m., and they’ll look to start off the season with an unblemished record by the end of the day. The game will be played at Hardy M. Graham Stadium and can be followed on the radio at WUTM 90.3 FM The Hawk or at WCMT Mix 101.3 FM.