Skyhawks down Racers: UT Martin spoils Homecoming, hands Racers devastating defeat

UT Martin safety J’Vontez Blackmon tackles senior receiver Ja-Vonta Trotter in the first quarter of Saturday’s 66-59 loss to the Skyhawks. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

UT Martin safety J’Vontez Blackmon tackles senior receiver Ja-Vonta Trotter in the first quarter of Saturday’s 66-59 loss to the Skyhawks. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

Battered but not broken, Head Coach Chris Hatcher and the Racers entered the bye week on the heels of a crushing Homecoming defeat, losing to UT Martin 66–59 this past Saturday.

The loss pushed the team record to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in the OVC. With four games remaining on the schedule, the Racers will have to go 3-1 just to secure a third consecutive winning season under Hatcher’s guidance, much less to have a shot at the OVC championship crown.

With this in mind, Hatcher said the team has plenty to play for once the break is finished, and the team is looking forward to the challenge of mounting a final push.

“The off-week comes at a very good time for us, not only to heal up physically but to just mentally get away from the game for a little bit,” Hatcher said. “I think it’s going to do wonders for our psyche and I still believe we have a lot left to play for … as a competitor you always have something to play for because you want to compete.”

Senior receiver Walter Powell sprints to the endzone during Saturday’s game. With four contests remaining, Powell needs only eight receptions to tie the Murray State single season receptions record. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

Notching seven wins on the season would make the Racers automatically eligible for the FCS playoffs, and should the Racers hang around near the top of the OVC standings, Hatcher and company believe anything can happen.

“We’re really close,” Hatcher said. “You hear me every week talking about how close we are, and to me, this game this past Saturday was a hump game. It could’ve gone either way.”

Hatcher and the Racers are making a habit of playing close games, especially in the OVC. In eight conference defeats over the two-plus seasons under Hatcher, six of the losses were by one possession or less, and Hatcher believes the landscape of the conference would be much different had the Racers capitalized on just a few small plays in each series.

“If you have a better series here or there in all of those games; we’re the two-time defending conference champions and first place right now in the conference,” he said. “We’ve got to get over the hump, and I don’t know how to make us do that, and if I did, I would’ve done it a long time ago. We’re going to continue to buckle down and focus on the little things, and it’s like a forest fire-it starts with a spark. We need that spark to get us over the hump.”

Shouldering the hopes of the team’s success is none other than senior quarterback Casey Brockman, who conviently leads the FCS in completion percentage (70 percent), attempts (370), completions per game (37), completions (259) and passing yards (2,671).

Along with leading the FCS in multiple categories this year, Brockman is chiseling his name atop nearly all of the Murray State record books, as the offense is averaging 508 yards and 40 points per game and 91 offensive plays per contest.

While senior running back Duane Brady and junior transfer Jamaal Berry have held down the backfield with great authority, it is the consistent play of senior wide receiver Walter Powell who has continued to prove his skill game after game.

With defenses continuing to drape over him, Powell has defied all logic, averaging 130 receiving yards and 11 catches per game. After seven games, his reception numbers (74 catches,

912 yards, six touchdowns) are all on pace to shatter school receiving records, but Powell said he’d trade his stats for something more important.

“It’s tough,” Powell said. “I’d rather come out with the win than putting up another 100-yard game.”

For every yard the Racer offense gains, however, the defense gives up an an equal yard.

Searching for answers, the Racer defense will spend the next two weeks regrouping, as opposing offenses continue to torch the Racers through the air. The defensive secondary is reeling, giving up 370 yards per game. The rush defense has been slightly better, giving up 140 yards on the ground.

Hatcher said the coaches would remain focused on the team effort moving forward and will err on the side of caution and rest for the next two weeks leading up to their next matchup on the road against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.

For the Racers, every game from now on will have a playoff feel, as hopes remain alive, though slim, for postseason play and a shot at an OVC championship.

Edward Marlowe, Staff Writer