The Racers’ schedule saved the best for last as they prepare to face the No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State Gamecocks in Jacksonville, Alabama Saturday. The Racers are coming off a heart wrenching double-overtime loss to No. 24 Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 14, a defeat that left Head Coach Mitch Stewart at a loss for words.
“It was obviously physically exhausting for the kids,” Stewart said. “It was mentally exhausting for the kids. That game was what college football is all about. It was an awful lot of fun, but to be that close for something that big and then come up short, it was heartbreaking for those kids. I had to sit outside for a minute before I came in the locker room to figure out what I wanted to tell them. You just don’t have the words in those types of situations that’s going to make them feel any better.”
Murray State comes into the game with an overall record of 3-7 and 2-5 in the OVC. The Racers are seeking their fourth win of the season and the second win against Jacksonville State in three years. The Gamecocks have an overall record of 9-1 and a perfect 7-0-conference record. The Gamecocks’ only loss was to Auburn 27-20 in overtime.
Stewart said he was proud of how his guys played in their tough loss to Eastern Kentucky in double overtime, and said he wants the team to put forth that same intensity against the Gamecocks.
“We got to play like we did in the second half for all four quarters,” Stewart said. “I told them that our word of the week would be juice and that’s what we will have all week.”
The Racers have been led by KD Humphries, redshirt junior quarterback through the air, racking up 3,492 passing yards and 21 touchdowns with six interceptions for the year. Humphries has also been named to the 2015 STATS Offensive Player of the Year watch list for the Football Championship Subdivision. Roman Clay, junior running back leads the team in rushing with 11 touchdowns and 826 yards on 166 carries this season.
Stewart said he wants the team to stay focused and ruin the Gamecocks’ season.
“We are going to go down there with all intentions to spoil their number one seed into the playoffs,” he said. “We’re going to go down there and give this our best shot, but the challenge is we are going to have to play a full four quarters like we did the last two quarters last week.”
Jacksonville State comes into the game with an eight-game winning streak, following the loss to Auburn.
Eli Jenkins leads the Gamecocks in all passing categories with 1,973 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Troymaine Pope leads the team in rushing with 1,014 yards and 10 touchdowns on 138 carries.
“Our word of the week was going to be ‘Juice’ because that’s what we’re going to have all week,” Stewart said. “We’re going to have the best practices we’ve ever had. We’re going to go down there in all intention of spoiling their No. 1 seed to the playoffs. We’re going to take all the able bodies we have. It may not fill up one bus, but we’re going to take all the guys that we have that are still able to play. We’re going to go down there and give them our best shot.”
Injuries still plague the team heavily, affecting their depth chart as they prepare to face a team that’s solid in every area. Junior quarterback KD Humphries and senior receivers Jeremy Harness and Janawski Davis are all on the brink of breaking program records. Humphries’ last shot at besting his quarterback coach Casey Brockman’s single-season passing yards record lies on the Gamecock field. While Harness and Davis are quickly approaching four records each, senior Paul Rice leads Murray State’s receivers heading into the final matchup with 831 total yards.
“Man, he’s been one of our most solid players,” Stewart said of Rice. “And when I mean solid, I mean – knock on wood – has not missed a game due to injury or anything like that. He’s made every start. He’s always a guy that just seems to get that extra yard when you need it.”
The Racers will kick off at 1 p.m. on Burgess-Snow Field Saturday hoping to upset the regular-season OVC champions. Jacksonville State has beat the Racers in 10 of the series’ 12 games, but the Racers came out on top last time they played on Gamecock turf with a 35-34 overtime victory in 2013.
“All bets are off,” Stewart said. “You’re in the last week of the season versus the No. 1 team in the country and it’s like the playoffs. You just don’t ever know what’s going to happen.”