Story by Mark McFarland, Assistant Sports Editor
The Racer football team struggled to get anything together offensively in a tightly contested game, as they fell to Eastern Illinois 34-20 on Halloween.
With the loss, Murray State falls to 1-3 in the OVC and 2-5 overall.
The Murray State defense struck before some fans even found their seats as Marquez Sanford, freshman from Macon, Georgia, picked off Eastern Illinois’ Jalen Whitlow on the first play of the game. Sanford returned the interception 26 yards to the end zone to give the Racers an early 6-0 lead after missing the extra point.
“Basically it came from film study,” Samford said. “We knew who they would check and every first down and 10 they really threw the ball.”
The excitement continued when Mitchell Tray returned the kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to take the lead 7-6. The first 19 seconds of the game had one play from scrimmage, two touchdowns and a missed extra point.
A 40-yard field goal by Nick Bruno put the Panthers ahead 10-6, but the Racers responded as KD Humphries, redshirt junior from Montgomery, Alabama, threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Blackburn, junior from Glendale, Arizona.
“We ran a set of a bunch of plays,” Blackburn said. “We always kept coming back to that one route and it kept hitting perfectly, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
The first quarter ended with the Racers leading the Panthers 13-10.
A touchdown run by Shepard Little gave the Panthers the 17-13 lead with 14:34 left in the half – the only points scored in the second quarter. The Racer offense could not get anything started as one of the teams three fumbles came in the second quarter. The running game was nearly non-existent in the first half as the Racers finished the half with 37 total rushing yards.
“You play a team of that caliber and you put the ball on the ground one time it’s going to be a tough day for you,” said Head Coach Mitch Stewart.
The third quarter for the Racers would be much of the same story as they fumbled two times with both being recovered by the Panthers. Though EIU could not get much going, Whitlow connected with receiver Ben Odugbesan, who scored on an 80-yard play. It was one of the few times the Racers defense broke down, giving the Panthers a 24-13 advantage over the Racers who would be shut out in the third quarter.
“I thought the defense executed the game plan really well,” Stewart said. “I thought they did tremendously and I credit the defensive staff to that and I credit our kids for that.”
Despite scoring a fourth quarter touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Humphries to Blackburn it was too late for the Racers to get back into the game. EIU added 10 more points to bring the game to its final score of 34-20.
“Every week we’re fighting down to the last second,” Blackburn said. “It’s always a close game. We can really give that credit to our defense.”
The Racers next game will be next Saturday Nov. 7 at Tennessee State and will return home Nov. 14 for the final home game of the year against Eastern Kentucky.