The longest break between OVC contests in Austin Peay history came to an end on Sunday afternoon when the Governors traveled to Cookeville, Tenn. to face the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles.
The contest marked the start of multiple new eras in APSU football: it was the first game under new head coach Scotty Walden and the first under a quarterback not named Jeremiah Oatsvall or JaVaughn Craig since 2016.
However, despite out-gaining the Golden Eagles by over 200 yards and coming up with seven sacks, the Governors fell 27-21.
Penalties and turnovers marred the Govs. True freshman quarterback Draylen Ellis threw two interceptions while special teams units lost two fumbles. Additionally, the offense failed to convert on three of their five fourth-down conversions, with one putting the Golden Eagles right up against the APSU end-zone when a punt snap sailed high and through the hands of punter Matt Rigney. The Golden Eagles scored 20 points off turnovers. Additionally, the team also committed 13 penalties for 122 TTU yards.
“We put our defense in horrible scenarios all day,” Walden said. “From special teams to offensive turnovers, it was just very sloppy… I think it led to the loss, 100%. We outrushed them, we won the battle running the football. We won the battle in total yardage. We ran 71 plays to their 56. But we had 13 penalties for 122 yards. On top of that, we had two turnovers on offense, two turnovers on special teams. We had two huge returns from Jay Parker... And we block in the back. And that’s undisciplined.”
The game started innocently enough. Though the Golden Eagles took the first lead with a short field goal, the Governors quickly responded with a 22-yard pitch-and-catch from Ellis to Baniko Harley to go up 7-3.
That lead carried over into the second half, and APSU added on with another score from Ellis, who capped off an electric drive with a 16-yard scamper to jump ahead 14-3. Tennessee Tech shifted momentum by owning each of the next four scoring drives, including three touchdowns.
Down 27-14 with just over three minutes to go, Walden opted to substitute quarterback Bryce Robinson for Ellis. Robinson, a Clarksville Academy graduate, was originally listed as the game’s starting quarterback but did not debut until the end of the fourth quarter. He capped the possession off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Wilson, bringing the score to 27-21 with just 13 seconds left.
APSU made things interesting when defensive back Kordell Jackson recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the final Hail Mary attempt caught too much wind and sailed through the back of the end zone as time expired.
Ellis finished with 165 yards passing on 23 attempts and 49 yards rushing with two total touchdowns and two interceptions while Robinson, a redshirt freshman, threw for 55 yards and one touchdown on eight attempts with 11 rushing yards. Wilson led the way for the Govs’ offense with eight catches for 124 yards and one touchdown while running back Brian Snell took 16 carries for 69 yards.
“Draylen Ellis, I felt like through camp and through the competition, gave us the best chance to win,” Walden said. “He comes to work every day. He’s got the ‘it’ about him. The kids are attracted to him, he throws a great ball and he can run. He’s smart. At times he played really well today and at times he played like a freshman. He’s only going to get better from here.
“My plan the whole time was to play two quarterbacks today. It was always in the plans to play Bryce, I just didn’t find a time, the both of them knew they were going to play, but they didn’t know when. Bryce was ready at all times. He knew that he was going to play but I didn’t have a good feel in the first half to get him a series or a rep, so heck, why not at the end of the game and then try to generate some passing offense? He did a phenomenal job. Bryce is a winner. Phenomenal kid, and yes, it was very close between the two.”
Walden added that they plan to continue getting reps for both quarterbacks, but there will eventually be one that emerges to secure the full-time starting job.
The Governor defense was excellent throughout the game when they weren’t committing penalties — they allowed the Golden Eagles to gain just 156 yards of offense while bringing quarterback Bailey Fisher down seven times for a total loss of 41 yards. Only one of Tennessee Tech’s scoring drives went for more than 22 yards.
Linebacker Jack McDonald led the way with eight tackles, one sack and 1.5 TFL. Jackson wrapped up seven tackles, one sack and a team-high three TFL.
“I’m proud of the defense,” McDonald said. “I feel like, for the most part, adversity hit on us a lot. I felt like we responded well to most of it. Once again, we just have to go out there and keep performing like we should. We left plays out there as a defense. Credit to those guys up front who got after the quarterback and made it easier for the back end. I was proud of the way we played because we played hard on defense. We just have to get better and we have to look at the film, get corrections and get back to work.”
The Governors will return to Clarksville on Saturday, Feb. 28 to play their first game at Fortera Stadium since Nov. 30, 2019. They will host the Tennessee State Tigers with kickoff set for 2 p.m.