Clarksville, TN – [blank screen]
Your humble narrator spent a lot of time sitting and staring at the flashing cursor after the dateline in the Word document before trying vainly to describe what we collectively witnessed Saturday afternoon at Fortera Stadium.
The Austin Peay State University (APSU) football team didn’t just beat Jacksonville State. The Govs took the perennial Ohio Valley Conference favorite to the woodshed in a game that was never in doubt after the first half.
The Govs looked for all the world like the five-time defending OVC Champions as they continuously and collectively blew Jacksonville State off the ball, controlled the line of scrimmage, hassled preseason All-American Zerrick Cooper into three first-half interceptions and basically did whatever they wanted to do.
The final score was 52-33. It never felt nearly that close. And it gave the Govs their first win against the Gamecocks since 1979 and their second win against a top-20 foe in three seasons.
Jacksonville State entered the game with one league loss in the last five years. That number has doubled, courtesy of the Govs.
There’s plenty of credit to go around here. After giving up a high (for them) 150 yards on the ground to ETSU last week, the Govs closed any gap that opened for Jacksonville State in the run game. The Gamecocks needed 23 carries to pick up 62 yards, a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. Josephus Smith and Co. blew up anything Jacksonville State tried.
Speaking of defense, the Gamecocks made the same mistake Mercer did—they threw the ball at Kordell Jackson, and he made them pay. He snuffed out the second Gamecock drive of the game with a pick deep in Jacksonville State territory, ultimately leading to a Logan Birchfield field goal and an early lead.
He picked off another pass in the second quarter – his second game in three weeks with multiple picks – again leading to a Governors score. He also recorded a tackle for loss; we think he should be National Player of the Week, but we thought so after Mercer so [shrugs].
Cooper may have been credited with the interceptions, but it was a collective defensive effort to disrupt his pocket. Kwame Sutton led the way with two of Austin Peay’s eight quarterback hurries to keep Cooper constantly under pressure, and when he was able to get the ball away there was often someone there to bat it away.
Austin Peay State University defenders broke up 10 passes, with Erskine Francis accounting for four by himself.
Yet there he went on APSU’s third drive, slicing through the Gamecock secondary, catching a beautiful JaVaughn Craig pass and taking it to the house. No one touched him; no one got within 10 yards of touching him.
I believe they call that setting the tone.
Jacksonville State fought the good fight and put a score on the board late in the first to make it 10-7. The APSU Govs took over with 36 seconds left in the first quarter, leading 10-7.
They would enter halftime up 31-7.
First blood in the second quarter came on a Kentel Williams four-yard scamper. Williams would finish with 186 all-purpose yards, 173 on the ground, and would add another score later in the quarter after Jackson’s second pick of the night.
For variety, Johnathan Edwards intercepted a pass to stop a late Jacksonville State drive as halftime neared; his first career pick set the Govs up inside the Gamecock 20; four plays later, Craig walked in for a touchdown.
Now’s a good time to bring up JaVaughn Craig in our somewhat scattered, “List of people who made a program-defining win possible.” He bookended halftime with rushing scores, tossed another touchdown in the third quarter to Gorel Soumare—extending Austin Peay State Unveristy’s lead to 45-7—and even recovered a fumble in the end zone for APSU’s final score.
His final line: 15-for-21 passing, 220 yards, two touchdowns passing, with an additional 30 yards rushing and three scores on the ground—taking the all-time lead in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
As we close, there’s no way this would have been possible without the coaches and staff assembled by Mark Hudspeth. While he is certainly the leader of the pack and the man responsible for the culture established in the home locker room, he’s one man. From the top down, the players, coaches and staff did something special and unique on Saturday.
The train doesn’t stop now; a bye week awaits the APSU Govs and when they emerge from it, they’ll have a target on their back and 2018 FCS playoff participant Southeast Missouri visiting Fortera Stadium. That comes October 12th.