Close, but no cigar.
For the past 10 years, the Racers (3-5, 2-3 OVC) have been plagued by losses to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (5-3, 4-2 OVC), and this loss was no different as Murray State failed to overcome early miscues and bad field position, eventually falling 38-35 last Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala.
The loss all but ruins any hopes of an OVC title this season, as the Racers are now two games behind with just three conference games remaining on the year.
Senior quarterback Casey Brockman rushed for two scores and threw for 255 yards, but Jacksonville State erased senior wide receiver Walter Powell from the Racer offense, as Powell failed to register a catch for the first time this season after averaging 10 catches and 130 yards per game.
Instead, the Gamecocks changed the pace of the game and kept the Racers off the field using a potent rushing attack behind senior running back Washaun Ealey, who rushed for 155 yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns.
Jacksonville State finished with 59 rushes and 262 yards on the ground, explaining the time of possession deficit (39:02) – (20:58) the Racers faced at the end of the game.
With little time on the field, Brockman never found any rhythm, throwing his third and final interception with just two minutes remaining and missing a chance to win the game in regulation.
Head Coach Chris Hatcher applauded the efforts of his team, again saying the team doesn’t understand the word “quit” despite coming up short on opportunities. All three conference losses this year have been by one possession, something Hatcher said the team has become all-too familiar with this season.
“It’s a little bit of the same old song and dance,” Hatcher said. “I thought overall it was one of the best games, effort-wise, that we’ve played all season long in the three phases of the game. We played a good team on the road, a very athletic team, and I thought, other than two plays, that’s the best our defense has played all season.”
Next on the slate for the Racers are none other than the Tennessee State Tigers, who come to Roy Stewart Stadium Saturday sporting a robust record (8-1, 4-1 OVC) having only lost to Jacksonville State just two weekends ago in overtime, 31-28.
Despite last weekend’s loss, the Racers can still finish with a third-consecutive winning season under Head Coach Chris Hatcher, but will need to start out this weekend with a win and win out following.
Junior linebacker Qua Huzzie said the defense has been making strides since the bye week, and he believes Saturday will be a true test with regards to the changes the defense has made.
“We’ve just got to go into this game focused, very relaxed and continuing where we left off last week,” Huzzie said. “We just keep playing and keep doing what the coach tells us to do.”
Another Herculean effort from the defense will be needed this Saturday, as the Tigers boast an extremely balanced attack on offense, averaging 236 yards passing and 186 yards rushing per contest. Junior running back Trabis Ward essentially carries the Tiger offense on his shoulders, as he has compiled 1205 yards rushing (4.9 per carry), 14 touchdowns and averages 29 touches per game in just nine contests this season.
Hatcher compared Ward to the most recent competition in Ealey, who gashed the Racers time and time again at the line of scrimmage last Saturday.
“He is an excellent player,” Hatcher said. “He’s got Washaun Ealey ability; they’re very similar in the way they are. He might be a tad shiftier where Ealey is more of a down-hill guy. He makes them go.”
The Racers will counter with their own backfield in senior Duane Brady and junior Jaamal Berry, as well as try to get Brockman back on track and firing on all cylinders.
Kickoff is set for at 11 a.m., as senior wide receiver Walter Powell needs only eight catches this Saturday to claim the school record for receptions of 82 set in 1967.
Edward Marlowe, Staff Writer