JaVaughn Craig

Austin Peay QB JaVaughn Craig stiff arms Central Arkansas defender Chris Kershner on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Fortera Stadium.

Austin Peay came close to pulling off a Top 25 upset, but not quite close enough.

The Governors were just one score away from their first win over a ranked opponent at Fortera Stadium since 2017 but instead fell to No. 18 Central Arkansas 24-16        

Quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall left in the first quarter with a left leg injury after attempting just three passes, leaving the keys to the offense in former starter JaVaughn Craig’s hands. 

Things did not go well for either offense.

The Govs had 88 yards on 28 plays at halftime compared to the Bears’ 121 on 33 plays. Central Arkansas led 3-0 at the break.

“Part of that is UCA,” Craig said of the early struggles. “They have a great defense and they played great defense all day, so credit to them. We hoped to catch more breaks, but they breaks didn’t fall our way this time so, yes, we have some things to clean up, but UCA did a great job.”

Craig passed for 185 yards and one touchdown, completing 14-of-30 attempts. He also rushed for 63 yards.

Ironically, a similar situation happened in reverse last season as Craig, who was starting, went out with an injury and Oatsvall replaced him and eventually won the starting job. 

“I went over and talked to him and told him, ‘Keep your head up. You’re going to be back, we’re going to need you, do whatever you can to be back as quick as possible,’” Craig said. “Because we can’t do it without him. He’s a captain for a reason, he’s our starter for a reason. 

“He told me ‘Go out and win the game. Go out and play. Go out and lead the offense.’ (Oatsvall and I) have great love for each other.”

After both teams made field goals early in the third quarter, the Govs jump-started their offense with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Crag to Baniko Harley to tie the game at 10.

“Coming out of halftime we said we would start taking some shots because they’d come prepared for the run,” Harley said. “I don’t want to say we were down (mentally). There was a lot of commotion saying we need to pick it up, but after the touchdown, (there) was life.”

Austin Peay added two field goals afterwards, but a 43-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth from the Bears gave them the lead. Central Arkansas added another touchdown with 1:46 remaining in the game. 

APSU’s final drive fell short on a Craig interception with 14 seconds remaining.

“I’m really proud of this team because we got down 10 points without our starting quarterback, a lot of times you can say ‘Aw man, that’s it,’ Austin Peay coach Mark Hudsepth said. “(But) our guys (battled) back.”

“They scored 16 unanswered and took the lead 16-10. Proud of the defense. Even though they were on the field most of the night, they just kept coming up with big stops and then, offensively, we ended up scoring some points.”

Running back Kentel Wiliams struggled to find space all game. He managed just 52 yards on 19 attempts and five catches for 17 yards. However, Austin Peay’s defense held the Bears to just 32 rushing yards on 30 attempts.

Despite just two catches, Harley led the team with 85 receiving yards. DeAngelo Wilson caught five balls for 69 yards.

Jack McDonald and Juantarius Bryant led the team with seven tackles each, while Mason Harwell and James Tobin each collected a sack. Tobin’s sack forced a fumble that led to Austin Peay’s final field goal. 

Kicker Logan Birchfield went 3-for-4 on field goal attempts and made one extra point. 

After the game, Hudspeth embraced his son, Gunner, who is a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas at midfield.

“I just gave him a hug. This game wasn’t about me or him,” Hudspeth said. “After the game I just told him I was proud of him, of what he’s becoming as a man and any time you see your son doing a good job, you’re always proud. 

“Whether he’s doing a good job in first grade or peewee ball, and now watching him grow up and mature as (a) young adult, and you see him taking the right paths. That makes any parent proud.”

Now 1-1, the Governors will take their first road trip of the season to Mercer (2-0) on Saturday, Sept. 14. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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