First season under new coach finishes

Jenny Rohl/The News
Janawski Davis, senior wide receiver, returns a kickoff during the Homecoming game.Jenny Rohl/The News Janawski Davis, senior wide receiver, returns a kickoff during the Homecoming game.

Story by Mallory TuckerStaff writer

Jenny Rohl/The News Janawski Davis, senior wide receiver, returns a kickoff during the Homecoming game.

Jenny Rohl/The News
Janawski Davis, senior wide receiver, returns a kickoff during the Homecoming game.

The Racers put their second consecutive three-win season to rest with a 42-20 road loss to No. 1 Jacksonville State Nov. 21. Under the leadership of first-year Head Coach Mitch Stewart, the Racers saw glimmers of hope in a slew of hard-fought losses and individual accolades throughout the year. Before heading into the offseason and preparing for weightlifting and a few spring games, let’s review some of the highs – and lows – of 2015.

The season opener against Kentucky Wesleyan provided the Racers’ biggest win of the season. They bested the Panthers 52-12 on senior night to start the season with high morale.

A four-game losing streak followed the Racers’ initial victory as they fell to two non-conference teams before losing to Tennessee Tech on Family Weekend. They went on to lose 27-10 to Southeast Missouri State on the road, a loss that haunted Stewart throughout the duration of the season.

The Racers returned with a 34-18 Homecoming victory over rival Austin Peay State before tacking two more losses onto their record. Their final win of the season came in an overtime road win over Tennessee State before a heartbreaking double overtime home loss to Eastern Kentucky just before traveling to Jacksonville, Alabama to end the season with a loss that wasn’t for lack of effort.

“I told the team this, I said, ‘Look here, most people in our situations they get to that last game, they take their toys, they go home, they pack it in. They’re done,’” Stewart said. “That ain’t our style.”

A 3-8 record isn’t what Racer fans hoped for, but with starting quarterback KD Humphries’ last year of eligibility being the 2016 season, there is a light at the end of the spring season tunnel.

“When you have a good player like that, there’s a lot up in the air,” Stewart said. “You’re hoping that they come back and they continue the success that they’ve had the previous year. That guy’s one of the most blue-collar guys we’ve got on the team. Every summer he’s found a way to stay with somebody – sleep on somebody’s couch, find a job or whatever he had to do – to stay here and throw with the receivers.”

Humphries broke former quarterback and current quarterback coach Casey Brockman’s 2012 single-season passing record, finishing the year with 3,778. Humphries also replaced Brockman’s record for single-season attempts with 532 and placed seventh for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Award. Voted on by over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters and other journalists, the quarterback, who leads the FCS in passing yards, passing yards per game, completions and attempts, appeared on 32 ballots and received six first-place votes. Humphries threw 22 touchdown passes throughout the 2015 season and just seven interceptions, landing a spot on the All-OVC Second Team as well.

Juniors Roman Clay and Jesse Blackburn and senior DeQuinten Spraggins joined Humphries on the All-OVC Second Team with four total, this was the largest quantity to receive All-OVC honors since the Racers’ 2011 season. Clay totaled 916 yards and 189 carries over the duration of the season, including 11 touchdowns and five games of 100-plus rushing yards. Blackburn, a tight end known for his hands, added 48 catches for 612 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 12.8 yards per catch. Spraggins led the team in tackles with 90 total and 50 solo. Four of his tackles resulted in a total loss of 13 yards. He also added two interceptions and broke up eight passes, five of which were in the Eastern Kentucky matchup.

Redshirt freshman punter Landon Stratton was named to the 2015 College Football Performance Awards Special Teams Watch List, one of only three freshmen to receive the honor. Stratton averaged 42.1 yards on 52 punts throughout the season without even one block, ranking him 19th in the FCS. He had nine touchbacks and was named OVC Specialist of the Week after the Racers’ loss at Western Michigan.

Injuries plagued the team heavily throughout the season as Stewart and his staff worked tirelessly to patch together strings of athletes to last a full four quarters. Throughout both the many troubles and few triumphs, however, the team still had fun.

“You get maybe a couple of turnovers that don’t hit the floor, a couple of things go different there, the ball bounces a little different there,” Stewart said. “We’ve been in every ball game. You’ve got a realistic shot to be sitting here with a record that puts you as one of the top teams in the conference. I really truly believe that. Man, we’re so close. And I think that’s what’s made it so fun this year. I know that sounds weird to say with the record, but it’s made it so fun, but at the same time it’s made it very heart wrenching.”