When asked about his All-American teammate Walter Powell after Murray State’s victory Saturday night, senior defensive back Brandon Wicks had few words.
“That man can play,” Wicks said. “That’s all I can say.”
Powell put the Racers on his back Saturday night, racking up 306 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns en route to a wild 41-38 victory over the Missouri State Bears.
The Racers and Bears, who had combined to score 182 points in their previous two meetings, added another exciting chapter to their newly established rivalry Saturday night, treating a family-weekend crowd of over 10,000 to seven lead changes in the second half and nearly 1,000 total yards of offense.
It was a tough start for the Racers, as Missouri State dominated the ground game during the first half. Senior running back Vernon Scott torched the Racers on the ground, running for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. Through the first half, the Bears rushed for 205 yards while the Racers could only muster 17 yards of their own.
“They had a plan coming in to milk the clock and run the ball right at us, and they executed it very well,” Murray State Head Coach Chris Hatcher said.
When the first half expired, the Racers found themselves in trouble, trailing the Bears 14-6.
In desperate need of a spark, Powell took matters into his own hands.
Fielding the second-half opening kick on the two-yard line, Powell plowed his way through the Missouri State special teams unit, returning it all the way for a 98-yard touchdown.
Powell’s special teams touchdown breathed life into the Murray State offense as Miller connected with Janawski Davis for a 52-yard touchdown. Miller would then return to Powell a few minutes later for another 66-yard strike.
The Racer defense then followed up the quick scores by forcing the Bears to go three-and-out on their next drive. Powell muffed the punt, however, and the Bears took advantage, scoring a touchdown off the turnover and pulling within two points.
“We got two quick scores, and then we muffed the kick and we let them right back in it,” Hatcher said. “We had a chance to really put it away, but to their credit they would not allow us to do that.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but with 2:55 to play Missouri State quarterback Kierra Harris ran it in from nine yards out to give his team a 38-34 lead.
Needing a touchdown to win, the Racers put together one last drive. Relying heavily on runs from Duane Brady, Murray State pushed the ball down to the 15-yard line before nearly stalling.
With just 24 seconds to play, the Racers found themselves facing fourth and ten from the 15. Hatcher used his final timeout to call a play to get it to Powell one last time.
Miller tossed a fade to the far corner of the end zone and Powell beat the coverage to pull it down and secure the Racer victory.
“You’ve got to go with your best player there and get the ball in his hands,” Hatcher said. “He’s probably practiced that catch thousands of times. We work it every day and it was just great execution.”
“It was nerve racking,” Powell said. “There was a lot of stuff going through my head. It was just the spirit of the moment right there. I’ve been practicing on that all summer, all camp, and that fade ball finally paid off.”
Missouri State took one final shot at the end zone, but the pass was intercepted by senior defensive back John Therrell.
“The thing I’m most proud about with our team is we did not play our best game,” Hatcher said. “We were able to overcome a lot of (mistakes) and find a way to win the game in the last minute. That’s something we have not done since I’ve been the coach here. I got a little choked up with the guys in the locker room. When it normally happens like that we don’t find a way to win and tonight we were able to do that.”
The win moves the Racers to 2-1 on the season as they look ahead to a road trip to Bowling Green next weekend before kicking off conference play.
Murray State kicks off at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer