Though the final record was not what the Racers hoped for when they embarked upon the 2013 football season nearly four months ago, Head Coach Chris Hatcher’s team went out with a bang, defeating the Eastern Kentucky Colonels 34-27 in overtime.
Tied at 27 after regulation, it took sophomore quarterback Maikhail Miller just two plays before finding freshman tight end Jesse Blackburn for a 26-yard touchdown strike.
Then trailing 34-27, the Eastern Kentucky offense took the field needing a touchdown to continue the game. The Colonels quickly found themselves in trouble, facing fourth-and-2. Junior quarterback Jared McClain converted for the first, however, and the drive continued. McClain quickly moved the ball all the way down to the 4-yard line.
The Murray State defense rose to the challenge.
Three times, the Racers kept the Colonels out of the end zone. The final blow came with the Colonels facing a fourth down from the 2-yard line.
McClain took the handoff and tried to punch it in but was met at the goal line by a slew of Murray State defenders. The Racers made the stop and the team stormed the field to celebrate its first victory over Eastern Kentucky since the 2004 season.
“What a great way to finish up the season,” Hatcher said. “Twenty-two seniors battled hard today. No matter the outcome, it’s a great testament to our guys how hard they fought during the game. You know we weren’t playing for a championship. (We were) playing for pride, playing to beat our arch rival and just playing to compete and we did that all night.”
Hatcher said he was especially proud of the defense, as it shut the Colonels down in the second half.
After losing his starting job three weeks ago at UT Martin, Miller sat in favor of junior quarterback Parks Frazier during the following two games. Hatcher decided to hand the reigns back to the Ole Miss transfer Saturday, and Miller had one of his best performances of the season.
“(Miller) played really well early in the year and then we got in a little funk there offensively, and we weren’t moving the ball,” Hatcher said. “Sometimes when your ace isn’t playing well, you’ve got to bring your reliever in and we did that with Parks. After we put (Miller) on the bench he pouted for about a week, and the past two weeks (Miller) has had a great attitude and worked extremely hard.”
Miller completed 37 of 54 passing attempts for two touchdowns and a career-high 467 yards. Nine of his completions went to Blackburn, who also had the best game of his career, racking up 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve been through a rough patch this part of the season,” Miller said. “They called my number again and I had to come prove that I was the guy for the job and finish the season strong for the seniors.”
With the victory over Eastern Kentucky, the Racers finish the year with a 6-6 record, good for fifth in the OVC standings.
“When you look back at the season,” Hatcher said, “we probably won a couple games we shouldn’t have won and we got beat in a couple we probably should have won, so it evened out in the long run.”
Although the Racers fell short of their original goal of winning an OVC championship, senior defensive back Brandon Wicks said winning the final game was special, especially for the team’s 22 senior players.
“The season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we had the chance to do something special today and we got that done for all the seniors,” Wicks said.
The end of the 2013 season marks the completion of Hatcher’s fourth season at the Racers’ helm. In that time, his teams have posted a 24-21 record – a point of pride for the coach.
“The previous 10 years before we arrived, the winning percentage at Murray State was .362 and now we’re over .500,” Hatcher said. “It’s not where I expect to be because I expect to win them all, but we’ve made significant strides.”
Hatcher and his coaching staff are now faced with the tough task of replacing 22 seniors, 12 of whom play on the defensive side of the ball.
The Racers will have several key role players back, however, including both Miller and Frazier at quarterback, the team’s second and third leading receivers in sophomores Janawski Davis and Jeremy Harness and junior Chavez Sims at linebacker, who led the team with five sacks amidst significant injury struggles.
Though much will change between now and the Racers’ first game next August, Hatcher is encouraged about the future of Murray State football.
“After watching the season, we’re a much better football team and a much better program than we were when we first got here,” Hatcher said. “I’m really excited about that.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer