It took just 56 seconds for the Racers to send a message.
Sophomore linebacker Qua Huzzie returned senior defensive tackle Ryan Walker’s fumble for a 24-yard touchdown on the second play of the game and the Racers went on to win 56-24 against the Austin Peay Governors.
The Racers, celebrating Senior Day, forced five straight three-and-outs against Austin Peay, stuffing the run repeatedly as the Racers jumped out to an early 19-0 lead behind four Kienan Cullen field goals.
Cullen would kick his fifth field goal in the third quarter, becoming only the third Racer ever to kick five field goals in a game.
Near the start of the second quarter, junior defensive back Julian Whitehead turned a fluke play into six points when he alertly grabbed a bobbled pass near the far sideline and returned it for a touchdown.
“It was a point of emphasis to come out and set the tone early,” Whitehead said. “We work on forcing turnovers every day, and it’s starting to become natural to us.”
The defense allowed 295 total offensive yards to Austin Peay on 125 yards rushing and 170 yards passing.
After getting off to a slow start, the offense began churning out chunks of yards as senior running back Mike Harris finished with 134 yards rushing, three rushing touchdowns, 59 yards receiving and one touchdown.
“It felt good to get a victory,” Harris said. “We all played hard on both sides of the ball.”
Junior quarterback Casey Brockman completed 25 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown and ran 11 times for 67 yards, eclipsing the OVC record of 280 completions in a single season.
Cullen put the coffin on the game early in the fourth quarter when he completed a 21-yard pass on a fake punt to sophomore receiver Walter Powell, snuffing any hopes of an Austin Peay comeback.
“This was the first game that my entire family could come to,” Cullen said. “It was nice to play a good game in front of them.”
Head Coach Chris Hatcher sent his seniors away with a win as 17 of his players suited up for their last home crowd against Austin Peay.
“They’re good guys and they’re good citizens,” Hatcher said. “They work hard and it was good to send them out with a big win here at home.”
The win secured back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1999 and 2000 and the Racers now face a must-win at Southeast Missouri State next Saturday if they want a chance to make the FCS playoffs.
Seniors Harris and Cullen agreed about this year’s team chemistry and how the team has responded throughout the years.
“My family unfortunately couldn’t be here today,” Harris said. “But I just felt the love all over today.”
“This is definitely one of the closest teams I’ve ever played on,” Cullen said. “From the wide receivers to the defensive linemen, you can tell we’ve all got each other’s back.”
Harris said the team even liked the kicker.
Said Cullen: “Who wouldn’t like me?”
The Racers will suit up again for a 1 p.m. kickoff it Cape Girardeau, Mo., against the Southeast Missouri Redhawks for their final chance to make the playoffs.