Overtime win for Racers, last home game against EKU

Nicole Ely/The News
Senior cornerback Bernard Thomas tackles an Eastern Illinois player in their Oct. 31 game.Nicole Ely/The News Senior cornerback Bernard Thomas tackles an Eastern Illinois player in their Oct. 31 game.

Story by Mallory TuckerStaff writer

Nicole Ely/The News Senior cornerback Bernard Thomas tackles an Eastern Illinois player in their Oct. 31 game.

Nicole Ely/The News
Senior cornerback Bernard Thomas tackles an Eastern Illinois player in their Oct. 31 game.

Coming off a 46-43 overtime win against Tennessee State, the Racer football team hopes to build off their momentum heading into their final home game of the season Saturday versus Eastern Kentucky.

“You’re hoping that all your big-time playmakers make big-time plays in big-time games for us,” said Head Coach Mitch Stewart. “It’ll be a home game, so that’ll be nice. You’re hoping that all the guys that you’re counting on and step up just like they did last week. We’ve got to build on that.”

Last week, junior running back Roman Clay was one of those big-time playmakers with a two-yard rushing touchdown to win the game and 134 total yards. Junior receiver Jesse Blackburn made big-time plays as well, totaling 162 yards and two touchdowns. At 6 feet 3 inches and 240 pounds, Blackburn took full advantage of his unusual size for his position, and observers took notice.

“I heard most of the commentators talking during the game – what a big body I am,” Blackburn said. “I try to use that as much as I can. I’m out there on guys that are just a little bit smaller than I am, so being as wide as I am, I try to use my body a lot. I’m not a very great route runner – I can run good routes, but I try to just use my body as much as I can.”

Size and strength like Blackburn’s are offensive tools the Racers’ upcoming opponent are usually known for, but Stewart views the Colonels differently this year.

Stewart

Stewart

“They’ve normally been big sets, ground and pound, and they may,” Stewart said. “They may come out and try to pound our fannies, I don’t know. Now they’ve got that quarterback – the transfer from Cincinnati, I’m not good with names – Coney, he can throw it all over the yard. They’ve got a lot of run-pass options that they do with him, which makes it very tough to defend.”

Coney has 2,000 passing yards on the season and a passing efficiency of 139.7 running an offense Stewart sees as familiar to his own. With a more up-tempo, spread style than they’ve run in past years, EKU is taking full advantage of their second-year quarterback. Senior defensive end Zach Dean, who was named OVC Specialist of the Week and an honorable mention selection for the STATS FXS National Special Teams Player of the Week for two blocked extra points and one for a touchback, is planning to take the game in stride.

“I know they’re pretty tough,” Dean said. “You can tell by their record and how they play in the conference. Just like we do every week, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to line up. We’re going to do as best we can to defend what they have. We did it last week, so we’ll do it again this week.”

Junior quarterback KD Humphries has racked up season statistics rivaling Coney’s, totaling 3,178 passing yards and a 136.62 passer rating – just shy of breaking his quarterback coach Casey Brockman’s Murray State single-season passing record of 3,729. Stewart is doing all he can to minimize the friendly in-house competition to keep Humphries’ talent rolling against the Colonels.

“The trick is you’ve got Casey Brockman, whose stats he’s about to surpass, and every Sunday when we come in Casey Brockman only wants to talk about the run game,” Stewart joked. “So if I can get Casey to stop sabotaging him, then maybe he’ll have a chance.”

Looking beyond the Humphries-Brockman comparison, Stewart has another pressure riding on this game: a sense of state pride. As the longest continually-played series in program history alongside Tennessee Tech, the teams have met 74 times.

EKU leads the series 44-26-4 since 1945, but the last time the teams met at Roy Stewart Stadium the Racers bettered the Colonels 34-27 in overtime.

“To me, this is an in-state rivalry,” Stewart said. “I don’t care if both of us wind up being last in the conference from here on out, every time we play Eastern Kentucky if we win, that’s going to be a horseshoe on the wall for us because to me, it’s the state championship game.”

The Racers kick off for the second-to-last time this season at 1 p.m. at Roy Stewart Stadium.

They will then hit the road Nov. 21 to face the No. 1 in the OVC Jacksonville State Gamecocks the following weekend.