Western rewind: Brantley a bright spot as Leathernecks drop season opener

Transfer wide receiver Naseim Brantley caught three of WIU’s four TDs in the team’s season-opening loss Thursday night. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

By Barry Bottino

When asked about the strengths of his game during fall camp, Western Illinois wide receiver Naseim Brantley didn’t hesitate.

“I’m a big playmaker,” he told Prairie State Pigskin. “I catch a lot of jump balls. I make big-time, consistent catches. I’m the guy that goes and makes the play if you need it to be made.”

In his debut for the Leathernecks on Thursday night in Martin, Tenn., Brantley was a bright spot in Western’s 42-25 loss to No. 18 UT-Martin, catching six passes for 171 yards and three of his team’s four touchdowns.

Brantley caught scoring passes of 32, 44 and 51 yards.

On the flip side, UT-Martin showed off its offensive firepower as well, rolling up 260 rushing yards on the Leathernecks and nearly 600 total yards. The defending Ohio Valley Conference champs piled up 30 first downs against the new-look WIU defense.

Game changers

10:58, 2nd quarter: Martin quarterback Dresser Winn throws a 34-yard TD pass to E.J. Smoot, breaking a 7-7 tie and igniting a run of 21 straight Skyhawk points.

5:05, 4th quarter: Zak Wallace breaks off a 34-yard scoring run for Martin, which powered its way to 6.0 yards per carry and three TDs on the ground.

0:20, 4th quarter: Brantley grabs his third touchdown of the night on a 32-yard play.

What it means

With a revamped roster, Western Illinois lost in the debut of new head coach – and former WIU wide receiver – Myers Hendrickson. In the process, WIU played two quarterbacks after a long off-season of QB questions.

Nifty ‘Necks

Prairie State Pigskin chooses its top stars of the game:

Brantley: The graduate transfer from FCS Sacred Heart became the first WIU player to catch three touchdowns in a game since Jaelon Acklin against South Dakota in 2017.

Anthony Quinney, LB: A defensive bright spot, Quinney made 15 tackles in his WIU debut. The transfer from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College also had one of the team’s three tackles for loss.

Nick Davenport, QB: With the starting QB a mystery for the entire off-season, Hendrickson started the game with Henry Ogala. Playing the second half, Davenport was 12-for-19 passing with three TDs and led the Leathernecks in rushing (62 yards).

What’s next?

Western travels to Minneapolis for an 11 a.m. game on Sept. 10 against Big Ten Conference member Minnesota (1-0).

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