Murray State struggled early, and the Panthers stormed out to a 30-0 lead. The Racers responded late, putting together a late second half rally.
In his first career start, Racer quarterback Parks Frazier found sophomore Pokey Harris over the middle for an 8-yard touchdown strike near the end of the third quarter.
On the subsequent kickoff, sophomore T-Ray Malone recovered a fumble and Murray State took over at the Panther 30-yard line.
The offense could not take full advantage of the turnover, but sophomore kicker Marc Wynstra sent a 31-yard field goal through the goal posts to cut the score to 30-10.
The Racers continued to fight back through the fourth quarter as senior defensive back Brandon Wicks forced his second fumble of the day to set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Frazier to junior Nevar Griffin to cut the deficit to 13.
“When we cut it to 13 points there, our team was pretty energetic,” Head Coach Chris Hatcher said. “They still felt like they had a chance to win.”
Unfortunately for the Racers, that was as close as they would get to pulling off the upset. On Eastern Illinois’ ensuing drive, running back Shepard Little broke off a 61-yard touchdown run to keep the Panthers perfect in OVC play.
“They’re a really good team,” Hatcher said. “They don’t have any weaknesses and they play with a lot of confidence. You’re not the No. 2 team in the country just because somebody decided to put you there. They’ve earned that right.”
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the week, however, came Monday when Hatcher received news that All-American wide receiver Walter Powell will miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury.
With just two weeks remaining in the season, Powell’s injury requires a 4-6 week recovery period, thus ending the career of Murray State’s all-time leading receiver.
“He’s very upset,” Hatcher said. “He played a really good game and he’ll be missed. He’s probably one of the top three or four most dynamic players in this conference, if not the nation, when the ball is in his hands. We’ve lacked some vertical passing game and with him out that really puts us in a bind.”
The 37-17 loss drops the Racers to 3-3 in conference play and sixth place, ending their hopes of an OVC championship.
Despite falling short of the goals set forth at the beginning of the season, Hatcher said his team will still play hard through the final two games.
“We have two more games to compete,” Hatcher said. “Then for the seniors, it’s over with. That’s what I stress each week – enjoy our time together and don’t compromise because we owe it to ourselves to give our best effort, no matter how the season is going.”
As the Racers look forward to the remainder of the season, they will work to solidify the quarterback position in particular.
During a poor outing a week ago at UT Martin, the Racers made the switch from Maikhail Miller to Frazier.
Frazier made his first start against Eastern Illinois and completed 32 of 50 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Frazier’s effort was enough to keep him as the starting quarterback in this week’s practices.
“It’s week to week,” Hatcher said. “We’ll start (the week) with Parks at the No. 1, and it’s up to Maikhail whether he wants to get the job back. Whoever goes out and performs the best, that’s who is going to get to play.”
The Racers will need consistent play from whoever gets the nod at quarterback as they travel to Nashville, Tenn., this weekend to face off against Tennessee State and the OVC’s top-ranked defense.
Though the Tigers’ vulnerability was exposed two weeks ago in a 44-0 blowout loss to Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State rebounded last week, defeating Austin Peay 31-6.
If the 5-5 Racers hope to salvage a winning season, they will need to find a way to defeat the Tigers at L.P. Field Saturday.
Murray State and Tennessee State kick off at 2 p.m.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer