It was a slippery slope for the Racers as fumbles and penalties dominated their loss against Austin Peay State Saturday at the new Governors Stadium. This win was the first in 18 games for the Governors and Austin Peay’s first win under second-year Head Coach Kirby Cannon.
The fumbles began as a pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback K.D. Humphries to sophomore receiver Jesse Blackburn was apparently fumbled and recovered by the Governors to the endzone, but was ruled on the field to be an incomplete pass.
On the next play, a handoff to sophomore runningback Marcus Holliday slipped out of his hands, but was ruled down before the fumble. On the next snap, Humphries fumbled the ball but recovered it for a slight loss. This series of botched plays forced the Racers to punt on their opening drive for the second time this season, the first being in the Louisville game.
“We had a terrible week of practice, and it just snowballed from there,” said Head Coach Chris Hatcher. “I still thought we’d be good enough to come out and win the game. Defensively, we played well enough. We did give up a couple big plays. We had some untimely penalties – especially right there at the end where we had the personal foul out of bounds, which was just an unnecessary penalty on our team. But at the end of the day, you do that and you turn it over five times, you’re not going to win the ball game.”
The Racers were able to come out with the initial lead with a 36-yard field goal by junior kicker Carson Greifenkamp. Hatcher attributed one of the few positives from the game to his special teams. Kicking, kick coverage and punts were all handled well in the game, according to Hatcher, despite redshirt freshman wide receiver Zach Shipley stepping in to punt for injured starting punter Zach Bogard.
The Governors were the victims of slick hands in the second quarter as they fumbled but were able to recover. A pass from quarterback Mickey Macius intended for freshman wide receiver Jared Beard was dropped out of Beard’s hands. The Governors attempted to fake a punt for a first down with 3:30 left in the first half, but the Racers stopped them and took over at their own 46-yard line.
An incomplete pass intended for junior receiver Janawski Davis kicked off another series of unfortunate plays for the Racers. On the next pass, Austin Peay’s sophomore cornerback Roderick Owens intercepted and returned the ball 39 yards to the Murray State 30-yard line.
“Every time we’d move the ball, we would turn it over,” Hatcher said.
Carrying momentum off the interception, Macius connected with Beard for a 30-yard touchdown and Austin Peay took its first lead in a football game since its 2013 game against Southeast Missouri State.
The Racers came back to action quickly as Humphries made two consecutive successful handoffs to Holliday for a large gain before Holliday fumbled on the third. The Governors recovered the ball at their own 23-yard line.
Murray State wasted no time in working its way back to a lead in the second half. Junior runningback Pokey Harris carried 24 yards for a touchdown just three minutes into the third quarter and the Racers took the lead 10-7.
Austin Peay’s Macius and Beard changed the game once again in the third quarter when they connected for a touchdown. Freshman kicker Dakota Vincil missed the extra point, and the lead stayed 13-10 with 6:01 left to play in the third.
During the Racers’ next series, Humphries scrambled from the 10-yard line before sending a pass into the endzone, only to be intercepted by Owens once again. Owens fumbled out of bounds, but Austin Peay received the touchback and took over from the 20-yard line.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on both sides, offsetting for an Austin Peay fourth down. Austin Peay was forced to punt and Davis fumbled on the return, which was recovered by Owens at the Murray State 20-yard line.
Macius connected with Beard the third time of the night for a touchdown and the Governors took the lead 20-10 with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
A fumble finally fell into the Racers’ hands with barely seven minutes left to play in the game. Austin Peay’s freshman runningback Otis Gerron was forced to fumble by Murray State’s Travis Taylor and Demetrius Mason recovered it at the Austin Peay 31-yard line.
The Racers worked their way into position for a field goal and Greifenkamp added three points to the board from the 28-yard line. The Governors held onto a 7-point lead with 4:59 left to play.
After a forced punt by the Governors, the Racers took over from their own 44-yard line. They worked their way downfield before a fumble struck yet again. Humphries completed a pass to Harness to the Austin Peay 26-yard line before Austin Peay’s Montez Carlton forced the fumble and the Governors recovered. Austin Peay began its drive with just 3:01 left in the game.
“As bad as we played, three minutes to go in the game, we’re moving the ball, we’ve got a chance to win, we get a big first down and we turn it over for the fifth time of the day,” Hatcher said. “At the end of the day, you can’t go out there, you can’t catch it, you can’t throw it, you can’t hang onto the ball for them.”
The Austin Peay student section rushed the field as the clock wound down. The final score of Austin Peay’s first win in two seasons was 20-13.
“I just keep going back to it,” Hatcher said. “I mean, you’ve got a personal foul here, you get a personal foul down there where you’re going to force them to kick a field goal, and you turn it over five times, I mean, when you’re calling defense and you’re calling offense, you can’t call anything else if you’re not going to hang onto the ball. And that’s what’s disappointing.”
Hatcher believes it is up to his team to regroup before its next game against Kentucky Wesleyan College.
“We’re going to go out there, we’re going to prepare hard as coaches, we’re going to put us in the best chance to win,” Hatcher said. “We’ve got to find just a way to get back up, and it’s kind of up to them. We’ve still got five more games left. We can make a little hay here in the last part of the deal, but we missed an opportunity here.”
The Racers kick off against the Panthers Saturday at 3 p.m. at Roy Stewart Stadium.
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor