Clarksville, TN – “A beautiful March Homecoming day,” is not how any other Austin Peay State University (APSU) Homecoming recap has started, but this has been a season unlike any other. Why should the hallmark day on the schedule be any different?
The only thing to spoil the day was the right foot of UT Martin’s Tyler Larco, who hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give UT Martin a 37-34 victory and dampen the day for the Austin Peay faithful.
There were no game-opening big plays this week, no early fireworks to set the tone. After the teams punted three times to start the day, Austin Peay State University produced its first sustained work on its second drive, moving the chains on a Draylen Ellis scramble for 11 yards and a Eugene Minter reception for 10 more.
Austin Peay State University marched into Skyhawks territory but wound up turning it over on downs when the march stalled out. With the freshman at quarterback and minus bellcow back Brian Snead, the Govs proved early they were able to move the ball on the Skyhawks.
After a Skyhawk touchdown drive ended with a Peyton Logan six-yard touchdown run, the APSU Govs got their first opportunity to erase a lead, and didn’t waste much time doing so. Another Ellis scramble set the Govs up at midfield, and on the ensuing first down he lofted a bomb that settled into the sure hands of the streaking Eugene Minter and he raced the remainder of the way for a 51-yard score to tie the game.
A quick three-and-out gave the ball back to the Good Guys and just as quickly, the Govs turned the possession into points. On third-and-six, Ellis found DeAngelo Wilson up the home sideline for 29 yards to the UT Martin 13-yard line; the very next play was a pop pass to Jay Parker in motion, which he took around the left end for his second receiving score in as many weeks. 14-7 to the Govs.
The Skyhawks struck back quickly. The 10-play, 75-yard march began with a 25-yard pass to Donnell Williams and ended with a 16-yard Williams touchdown catch to tie the game. After a three-and-out for the APSU Govs, the Skyhawks retook the lead with a 30-yard field goal with 5:32 to play in the half.
The Govs wouldn’t even need half that time. Ellis found Baniko Harley for 15 yards on a first third-and-eight situation and Wilson for 26 on the next to set the Govs up in Skyhawk territory. Ellis then dropped back and floated a ball 27 yards to Minter in the end zone for his second score of the day.
The teams went into halftime tied at 20 after a late Skyhawk drive yielded a 41-yard field goal. But it didn’t take the Govs long to get on track in the second half—on the first play from scrimmage, Ellis found CJ Evans Jr. for 32 yards, then hit the Mobile native for 20 yards on third-and-eight to take the Govs inside the red zone. From there, the ground game took over, with Ahmaad Tanner going around the left side from 12 yards out for his season’s first score.
The teams traded empty possessions before the Skyhawks embarked on a lengthy foray into Governor territory. On third-and-eight, John Bachus hit Rodney Williams II to get the Skyhawks into the red zone and two plays later, the Bachus-Williams connection from 19 yards out yielded the game-tying score with 6:50 to play in the quarter.
On the first play of the next Austin Peay State University drive, Tanner bounced left up the home sideline for 30 yards. The next play, Ellis hit a streaking Wilson for 45 yards and a score to retake the lead. 34-27 Govs with a lot of football left to play.
Six straight drives came and went without points on the board to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, with UT Martin punting three times and the Govs punting twice and losing the ball on downs. With 9:37 to play in the game, UT Martin took over on the Austin Peay 49-yard line and immediately moved deep into Governor territory on pass interference and targeting calls on back-to-back plays. A roll right on third-and-goal saw Bachus hit Richie Griglione for the tying score with 7:12 to play.
Disaster was averted on the second play of the ensuing drive when a deep Ellis pass intended for Wilson was nearly intercepted had Wilson not jarred the ball loose. But the Govs could not gain traction and were forced to punt the ball back to the Skyhawks with 5:55 to go.
With Bachus removed from the game for Dresser Winn, who was subsequently knocked out of the contest, UT Martin turned to freshman Stewart Howell in his first career appearance. With decent field position, the freshman helped move the Skyhawks into field goal position, with UT Martin converting on a third-and-three (Lamarcus Young four-yard carry) and third-and-eight (Howell to Colton Dowell for nine yards).
With time winding down and UT Martin on the Austin Peay State University 33-yard line, the defense stood tall. Howell went around the right end for two yards but was sacked by Matthew Gayle to drop UT Martin out of field goal range and set up a third-and-18. But another Howell-to-Dowell connection for 12 yards put the Skyhawks back in field goal range, and Larco nailed the field goal as time expired to stun the APSU Govs and the Homecoming crowd.
The Austin Peay State University football team returns to action next weekend with a 2:00pm, Sunday, March 28th visit to Jacksonville State—Austin Peay State University’s final trip to Jacksonville with the Gamecocks as a member of the OVC.