Shelley, No. 5 Bears top UT Martin in home-opener

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SPRINGFIELD – A pair of Jason Shelley touchdown passes to Ty Scott in the fourth quarter helped Missouri State (2-0) overcome a late deficit here Thursday in a 35-30 home win over UT Martin.

The No. 5-ranked Bears trailed 24-21 heading into the final stanza before Shelley and Scott connected on a fourth-and-one play from the seven-yard line for the go-ahead touchdown with 10:09 to play. The impressive fade into the left corner of the end zone capped a 12-play scoring march that gave MoState a 28-24 lead at the time.

On the Skyhawks’ next possession, MSU defensive pressure caused QB Dresser Winn into a pair of incompletions in Bears’ territory, including a fourth-and-nine play at the MSU 37 that gave the ball back to the Bears on downs.

Missouri State then went in for the finish, using the ground performance of Celdon Manning and Jacardia Wright to push the ball down the field to the UT Martin 27. Moments later, on third-and-five from the 22, Shelley found Scott again for a touchdown to make it a 35-24 game with 4:37 to go.

Shelley finished the night 19-of-24 for 297 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Meanwhile, Scott caught eight passes for 96 yards and a career-high three touchdown receptions.

No. 14 UT Martin (1-1) made things interesting down the stretch, getting back within striking distance after Winn took just five plays to get his team into the end zone for the final time. A 14-yard pass to Elijah Smoot completed the 74-yard push to make it 35-30 with 2:43 to go.

The ensuing on-side kick was recovered by the Bears who turned to Wright to grind out the clock and the win. He carried three times for 20 yards on the game’s final possession to finish the night with an even 120 yards on 23 touches. He also added four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown to his impressive home debut.

“Our offensive line did a great job and gave us the opportunity to run the football with power,” said Bears head coach Bobby Petrino. “I was proud of the way we ran the ball in the fourth quarter. It makes the game easier on the quarterback when you can do that.”

The Bears finished the night with 139 ground yards on 37 carries, including 65 yards in the final quarter.

Defensively, the Bears couldn’t get to Winn for a sack, but they did get enough pressure on him to make a difference late. MSU had four QB hurries, including two from Devin Goree, while Kevin Ellis led the squad with seven total stops and a pair of tackles for loss. Montrae Braswell and Dillon Thomas each accounted for six tackles.

“We didn’t have any sacks, but our pressure got him (Winn) to move off his spots,” said Petrino. “I think that was important, especially late.”

Winn finished 29-of-41 for 344 yards and three touchdowns for the visitors. Colton Dowell also snagged 10 catches for a game-high 159 receiving yards and a touchdown for UT Martin, while Zak Wallace also racked up 76 yards on 17 carries, including a score.

In the first half, the Bears manufactured three scoring drives to lead 21-14 at the midway point. Shelley racked up 229 passing yards and three touchdown passes to three different receivers. TD receptions by Manning (64 yards), Scott (10 yards) and Wright (19 yards) helped MoState overcome an early 7-0 deficit and give the home side a narrow cushion at the intermission.

Missouri State outgained UTM by a 301-199 margin in the first 30 minutes and got 76 rushing yards from Wright in that span.

Missouri State will now begin preparations for a Sept. 17 road challenge at Arkansas (6 p.m., SEC Network+) before returning to Plaster Stadium for the conference opener on Sept. 24 against South Dakota State.

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