It is not often a coach can take away positives from a 58-14 defeat, but that is exactly what Head Coach Chris Hatcher is doing after losing a tough season opener in Columbia, Mo., last Saturday.
“After watching the tape, I thought there were a lot of positives to take from the ball game,” Hatcher said. “Offensively, the first quarter-and-a-half we were pretty much able to do what we wanted to do. We ran the ball well, ran the quarterback well, pitched and caught the ball well and blocked their big front pretty much that entire first half.”
The Racers stormed out of the gate as senior defensive back Darrian Skinner forced a fumble on Missouri’s opening drive.
The Racers recovered the loose ball and quickly drove down the field. At the 12:35 mark, sophomore quarterback Maikhail Miller found senior receiver Walter Powell for the 17-yard touchdown strike.
The Racers lost the lead after two consecutive Missouri touchdown drives, but the offense responded, stringing together a methodical, 14-play, 83-yard drive to the end zone.
Facing third-and-4 on the Tiger five-yard line, the Racers pulled some trickery as Miller was the one taking the pass from sophomore receiver Jeremy Harness.
Miller made an ankle-breaking spin move to elude the Missouri defender and waltz easily in for the score and the lead.
When the first quarter expired, the Racers found themselves leading 14-13.
Things started turning south for the Racers in the second quarter as Missouri’s superior size and depth took over. The Racers’ next three offensive possessions ended in punts and Missouri took a 30-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Murray State struggled to keep up after halftime, amassing only 46 yards of offense in the second half.
“As a competitor it’s hard to swallow getting beat like we did,” Hatcher said, “but also you’ve got to keep it real and understand what kind of foe you’re going up against and the conditions we were playing in.”
Hatcher said he still thinks his team could have played better and it could have been closer, so there is some disappointment.
Hatcher and company turn their sights to the home opener against a Division I Campbellsville team Saturday night.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams. It will also be the first Division I opponent the Racers have faced since defeating Kentucky Wesleyan 66-10 in 2009.
The Tigers are led by 6-foot-2-inch senior running back Ben Axon.
Axon led the team in rushing yards last week against Lindsey Wilson , carrying the ball 17 times for 105 yards.
Hatcher said stopping Axon will be a big focus in the Racers’ preparations.
“He’s a big back and we just can’t let him get going downhill on us,” Hatcher said. “They’ve got a lot of good transfers on their team, but that’s one guy we’re going to have to key in on and stop in order to be successful.”
Saturday is more than the home opener for some players this year.
The Racers will also honor their 22 seniors prior to the game. Senior day was moved from the end of the season to the beginning.
This move, Hatcher said, will allow the team and community to better honor the senior players.
“Traditionally, our best crowds are earlier in the year,” Hatcher said. “Things are going well and it’s a night game with a little electricity in the air with it being the first home game. We just thought it was a good way to kick off the home season by honoring those guys on a big night.”
Eleven of the 22 seniors have spent at least four seasons at Murray State, and will likely finish with more than 20 career victories.
Those 11, Hatcher said, are truly special players.
“They’re all special guys,” Hatcher said. “Anyone who hangs around four or five years is special to you because they’ve had to have a lot of discipline, work extremely hard and put up with me for that period of time.”
As the home season begins, Hatcher hopes he can send his seniors out on a successful season.
“When they get to be seniors, time goes by fast and you want to send them out with success,” Hatcher said. “So hopefully this group will be able to do that.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer