As of Saturday afternoon, the Austin Peay Governors are officially out of the race for the OVC championship.
But there’s good news: they defeated their archrival and No. 13 ranked Murray State Racers at Fortera Stadium 34-31 on Saturday, April 3 on a buzzer-beating field goal.
It’s their fourth-straight win over MSU and second-consecutive over an undefeated, nationally-ranked district rival.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” said APSU head coach Scotty Walden. “I’m just blown away at how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time…To knock off two top-25 teams that are not good football teams, but great football teams, it says a lot about the caliber of the program I believe we have. I believe we’re a national contender. I really believe that. I believe we can contend with anybody. We’ve just got to go prove it every week, week-in and week-out. I’m very proud of our guys proving that the past two weeks.”
Austin Peay played its most disciplined football of the season, committing only three penalties and giving up zero turnovers. Their offense was as balanced as it’s been all season, with Draylen Ellis passing for 227 yards and two touchdowns while the team combined for 220 rushing yards and two scores.
Most of that offense came in the second half. The teams went into the break tied at 10 apiece with neither squad able to get much going, but they traded two touchdowns apiece in the third quarter to blow down the defense’s walls.
It started with a quick strike by the Governors out of the break — in only three plays, they made their way into the end zone with an 11-yard option run from Ellis to get his team ahead 17-10. To score and score quick was exactly the plan they devised in the locker room.
“Start faster and stronger,” said running back Ahmaad Tanner. “We’ve been preaching that for weeks now. We’ve been having trouble finishing in the second half, it’s like we don’t have it when the second half comes around. We were preaching that we’ve got to finish.”
As has been the case for most of the season, the Governors were unable to get the stop right after or go ahead by more than one score. Instead, the Racers charged back with a fast touchdown of their own, taking just four plays to even the spread again.
The squads each scored on their next drives again to bring the game to a 24-24 standstill, but Murray State became the first team to score twice in a row when Damonta Witherspoon’s 18-yard rush gave MSU their first lead of the game at 31-24.
Enter Austin Peay. They followed that drive by going 66 yards in 11 plays, taking 4:28 off the clock, culminating in an Elis-to-CJ Evans touchdown pass to bring the game to its final tie. The defense turned around and forced its first three-and-out since the first quarter to put the ball back in the offense’s hands — but they were backed up against their own end zone.
But fear not, Govs fans: 16 plays and 80 yards later, kicker Grant Paulette lined up for — and hit — a 33-yard field goal to put the home team ahead 34-31.
“It was a big time feeling, especially Grant Paulette,” Walden said. “We made a change at kicker, and Grant Paulette coming off the bench this week and what a fantastic show of mental toughness. To be put in that scenario and to come through in the clutch, what a great job protecting and getting that through the upright.”
Despite often playing for quick strikes, the Governors had three drives reach double-digit plays on Saturday with all of them resulting in scores.
Again, it was not a perfect game. For the first time this season, the defense failed to get a sack and got only three tackles for loss. They also did not force any turnovers. But they were picked up by their offense, who allowed just one sack and ran 80 plays — 23 more than the Racers.
Tanner took 25 carries for 122 yards — a career-high — and one touchdown. Wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson was Ellis’ favorite target, catching 10 passes for 99 yards.
The Governors will finish their season on Sunday, April 11 on the road against the Eastern Illinois Panthers at 1 p.m.