Story by Mallory Tucker, Staff writer
It’s a work in progress. That’s what Head Coach Mitch Stewart said about the football team after a 27-10 loss to Southeast Missouri State Oct. 3 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Stewart made quick work of that game’s film and discovered exactly what progress needed to be made during the week before their next game. Stewart said if the Racers can do one thing, they would find success 3 p.m. Saturday at Roy Stewart Stadium as they kick off against Austin Peay State for the homecoming football game.
Their biggest challenge isn’t technical and it has nothing to do with their athletic abilities. They don’t need to get bigger, run faster or learn their plays better. They must relax
“The good news is we’ve got it figured out,” Stewart said. “You’ve got a bunch of 20-year-olds, 18-year-olds, coaches, fans, media-related people that have been following this program. Everybody’s tied up in such a tizzy and everybody’s wound up in such a tight ball and they want to win so bad – especially the kids, especially the coaches – and everybody wants to win so bad that you can’t win for losing.”
Ridding themselves of that stress and pressure goes hand in hand with releasing their frustration from the last few weeks, especially the SEMO game. Junior running back Roman Clay – who racked up 156 rushing yards during the matchup – says the team is disappointed because they know they should have beaten the Redhawks. Before playing the Racers, SEMO was 1-3 including a loss to Division II Shorter University.
“After a loss, everybody was so worked up and mad,” Clay said. “We knew we should have beat that team. We were better than that team. That’s why everybody was so upset. We know we’ve got the best players on the field. Our 11 vs. your 11, we’re going to win. It was more like we let ourselves down. We didn’t play up to our expectations.”
For the most part, the Racers didn’t come up short on offense – only in the red zone. Redshirt junior quarterback KD Humphries threw for 368 yards with only one sack and one interception.
“We were able to move the ball all up and down the field,” Clay said. “It’s just when we got to the red zone, like Coach Stewart says, we felt so tight and so anxious that we’ve got to make a big play and we’ve got to score. Really, what we did was we took ourselves out of the game. We had over 500 yards of total offense. What’s 25 more yards?”
The Racers’ kicking struggles didn’t help, as Stewart moved redshirt junior kicker Connor Mitchell up the depth chart to kick field goals and extra points in lieu of senior kicker Carson Greifenkamp.
“It’s no secret, our field goal team right now is very shaky at best,” Stewart said. “So what that does is that puts an awful lot of pressure on your offensive team. What happens is, a guy like Roman Clay, he breaks open for a 35-yard run and gets tackled at the 10 – instead of everybody rejoicing over that big run, everybody’s going, ‘Crap, I wish he would’ve scored. We needed that six points right now, because we can’t settle for three.’ All of a sudden you don’t get your six because you’re worried about not getting the six. In essence, what you’re doing is trying not to lose instead of trying to win.”
Senior defensive tackle Demetrius Mason puts just as much fault on the offense, saying there are great players on both sides of the ball for Murray State. “We shouldn’t even be letting a team like SEMO get that many points on us,” Mason said. “I feel like we have a great defense this year. We’ve just got to execute more. Even if the offense goes 3-0 quick and we’ve got to be back on the field, we can’t be worried about that, we’ve just got to go play ball.”
Moving forward – a new mantra for Stewart and a reality for the team this week as they put the SEMO game behind them – the Racers are excited to play in front of a packed house at homecoming.
“We love the Racers’ support and we love people to come out there and watch us,” Mason said. “When you’re on the field, you don’t worry about how many people are in the stands, but it’s always good seeing those faces in the crowd that came to support.”
The Governors are 0-5 this season and 0-2 in the OVC with losses to Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois under their belt. Last season, the Racers fell to the Governors 20-13 at Governors Stadium in Clarksville, Tennessee, but Murray State has beat Austin Peay during its last three meetings at home. Austin Peay’s quarterback, Trey Taylor, has racked up only 531 total yards this season in comparison to Humphries’ 1,829 passing yards alone. Statistics and record are being set aside, however, as the only way to move is forward.
“Moving forward, we put this game behind us,” Stewart said. “We’ve put the season to this point behind us, because we’ve still got six more ball games to play. And we’re good enough to win all six ball games. Now is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to relax and we’ve got to play ball. That’s the bottom line. Relax, play ball, coach ball. Let the game come to us and stop worrying about every little thing that happens on every call.”