With wins over top OVC teams SEMO, Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky, the 4-1 Austin Peay State Governors hosted the 5-1 UT Martin Skyhawks on Saturday for sole possession of first place. They never trailed and won 38-24, putting them atop the conference.
Get used to hearing this: the Governors have a target on their back.
After a 0-0 first half, the Govs scored a quick 10 points in the second quarter, including a 67-yard touchdown run by Kentel Williams on a play that appeared to be all but dead as he pushed through a pile of defenders.
“It was just a great strategy by our coaches,” Williams said. “All week long, they were telling us that they were going to overplay it, so the back door was going to be open. I trusted my coaches and I trusted my blockers, and fortunately, they thought I was down. I just kept my feet driving and it happened.”
Their game plan worked just about everywhere else, too, and they never looked back. Williams ended up with 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback JaVaughn Craig, while being held without a touchdown, still threw for 255 yards on a 63 percent completion rate. He also ran for 66 yards.
Craig now has 2,196 passing yards this season following his eighth consecutive 200-yard game. With two games remaining, it is already the third-most by a Governor in a single season.
APSU’s other two scores came from a seven-yard Baniko Harley rush out of a wildcat formation and a Prince Momodu 17-yard rush to ice the game.
The Governors offense was incredibly efficient, converting 10-of-17 third down attempts, going 3-for-3 on fourth down tries – including a fake field goal – and scored on all five of their red zone trips.
“We knew coming into the game there were some things we were going to do, and we were going to be aggressive in the way we called it,” said APSU coach Mark Hudspeth.
The Govs defense recorded six sacks, tied for the most in a single game in program history. Josephus Smith led the way with two sacks. Jack McDonald, Shaun Whittinghill and Kordell Jackson (who also had an interception) picked up one sack each, and Pat Walker and Mason Harwell each had half a sack.
The ferocious pass rush complimented a shut-down run game to hold the high-flying Skyhawks offense to minus-25 yards rushing on the night.
“We take pride in stopping the run first,” Smith said. “That’s something that Coach (Hudspeth) always preaches. They’re a run team, they like to run it.
“We knew that we were going to stop the run, and we saw that they couldn’t run, I was telling them on the sideline, ‘Let’s get after the quarterback. We’ve got to rush the quarterback, get after the ball and rush the quarterback.’ And that’s what we did.”
With six catches for 126 yards, wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson surpassed the 1,000 yard mark for the season, making him only the third player in APSU history to do so. He is 11 yards away from becoming the single-season record holder.
“It really means a lot to me and my family,” Wilson said. “I came here just so I could change the culture. (Former Austin Peay coach Will Healy) brought us here so we could change the culture. To be able to go down in history as one of the best to do it, it just feels good.”
The culture certainly appears to have changed with new program records being set weekly. In fact, if the Governors win their final two games, they will bring the first conference title to Clarksville since 1977 and punch their first-ever trip to the FCS playoffs.
That said, the Governors are not concerned with how things will look in two weeks. For now, they are focused on their next foe: the Murray State Racers.
Saturday’s game is scheduled to kick off at 12 p.m. in Murray, Kentucky. The Racers are 4-6 and 2-4 in the OVC.