Defense proves tough for Tennessee State

The Racers upset the Tigers 49-28 Saturday night, removing them from the top 25 in FCS rankings. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

The Racers upset the Tigers 49-28 Saturday night, removing them from the top 25 in FCS rankings. || Samuel T. Hays/The News

The Tennessee State team (8-2, 4-2 OVC) walked into Roy Stewart Stadium last Saturday ranked No. 18 in the FCS, looking to tack on another “W” to their already impressive resume.

The Racers (4-5, 3-3 OVC), however, failed to receive the memo, drilling the Tigers for 29 unanswered points en-route to a 49-28 victory. Junior running back Jaamal Berry scored three touchdowns and ran for 163 yards on 16 carries, while senior quarterback Casey Brockman completed 27-of-38 for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

The offense didn’t stop there for the Racers, as senior running back Duane Brady chipped in nine carries for 78 yards, while senior wide receiver Walter Powell returned to form with eight catches, 117 yards and a touchdown.

Despite putting up another 500-yard offensive day, Head Coach Chris Hatcher was quick to credit a vastly improving defense for the win last weekend.

“It was a huge win for us over a top-20 opponent,” Hatcher said. “I thought the past two weeks our defense has really improved a lot, and even after watching the film we’ve made significant strides this week over our Jacksonville State performance. We tackled better, we had very few busted assignments and we’re playing with great confidence on that side of the ball. Offensively, we just continue to get better each and every week.”

While the defense has been a low point for the team this season, Hatcher said the key to their success was keeping their scheme simple.

“We just lined up and played defense,” Hatcher said. “That’s just what we did. We lined up, we played our gaps and we tackled well and that’s something we’ve done a lot better the last two weeks than we did earlier in the season. … This is not a complicated game. Sometimes everybody tries to make it complicated, but on defense you just line up, you play your assignments and you’re very aggressive and with confidence good things will happen to you defensively.”

Despite being mathematically eliminated from playoff and championship contention, it was the fifth straight win over Tennessee State for the Racers.

The loss dropped the Tigers out of the FCS rankings, while the victory could prove to be the momentum needed for the Racers to close out the season on a high note.

A win Saturday will not come easy, however, as the Racers travel to Richmond, Ky., to face the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Murray State lost a 34-33 heartbreaker to Eastern Kentucky last year at a Nov. 29 home game.

The Colonels currently have a 7-3 record on the year and are led by senior running back Matt Denham, who paces the offense with 1,172 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

“They get in a lot of different formations and Denham is a downhill runner, so we’ve got to limit the power game,” Hatcher said.

The Racers have had a tough time with the Colonels in past years, losing every matchup since 2004.

Senior defender Julian Whitehead and company have yet to defeat Eastern Kentucky in their time at Murray State. Whitehead said he’s ready to break the streak this weekend.

“It’s a special game, being the two teams from Kentucky and we’re still bitter from last year from the one point loss,” Whitehead said. “We know they’re a great team and they’re always one of the top teams in the country. They’re well-respected and we respect them too. We know it’s going to take our very top effort to beat them and we’re going to prepare that way in practice.”

With two games remaining, the Racers need to win out in order to ensure a third straight winning season under Chris Hatcher’s command.

Kickoff is at noon, Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium in Richmond, Ky.

Story by Jonathan Ferris, Sports Editor and Edward Marlowe, Staff writer.