Austin Peay (10-3) at Montana State
When: 6 p.m. MST
Where: Bozeman, Mont.
Site: Bobcat Stadium
How to Watch: ESPN3
Playoff football is usually a time when jitters sometimes come into play, especially for a team that has never experienced the challenges of a prolonged season.
Or sometimes it can be as simple as a case of a little kid on Christmas morning with a new toy and the excitement lasts for a long time.
Such might be the case for Austin Peay as the Governors continued to pick up believers while dispatching foes to the surprise of many.
After winning the Ohio Valley Conference championship for just the second time in school history and the first since 1977, the Governors won their second straight playoff game with a resounding win over Sacramento State last weekend. APSU has a chance to knock off another Big Sky Conference foe when the Govs travel to Bozeman, Montana, to take on Montana State in a Friday night clash.
Common Opponents: Despite being half a country apart the Governors and Bobcats share two common opponents on the season in the form of Southeast Missouri and Sacramento State. The Governors defeated SEMO 26-24 earlier this season in the matchup of eventual Ohio Valley Conference co-champions before their win over Sacramento State last weekend.
Montana State, meanwhile, defeated Southeast Missouri 38-17 on Sept. 7 in Bozeman and was sacked by the Hornets 34-21 in MSU’s homecoming game on Oct. 12.
Coaches: The chiseled look of intensity on the face of Mark Hudspeth as he roams the sidelines is all the proof needed to realize he has been around the block in terms of coaching. A former head coach at North Alabama (2002-08) and Louisiana (2011-17), Hudspeth is in his first season at Austin Peay.
By the way, did you know he is leading the Govs on a history-making season at the school?
Hudspeth was selected as the region coach of the year earlier this week by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and has guided AP to a 10-3 record heading into Friday’s quarterfinal round game against the Bobcats.
Jeff Choate, a graduate on Montana-Western, is in his fourth season at the helm of the Bobcats, who have improved each year under his leadership. MSU finished 4-7 in 2016 under Choate and increased that win total to five wins the following season. The Bobcats finished 8-5 last season and bring a 10-3 record into Friday’s game against the Governors. Choate has a 27-21 career mark with the Bobcats.
Austin Peay Governors
Austin Peay can score points quickly and often. Just ask Sacramento State.
The Govs average more than 35 points per game and have proven to be well-versed running and passing the ball. They have run for more than 185 yards per game this season and have passed for more than 244 yards per contest.
The APSU defense is among the best in the nation this season and is gaining more respect with each passing week. Opponents are averaging less than 300 yards per game against the Govs this season, including just 88 yards per game on the ground.
Key players: JaVaughn Craig had a monster game against Sacramento State. The 6-2, 210-pound senior QB accounted for more than 350 yards of total offense and added to his laurels in Clarksville by passing for his 26th touchdown this season.
Craig has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this season and has added nearly 800 more on the ground. He should be able to add to his numbers in a big way against the Bobcats.
Kentel Williams (6-0, 190) leads the AP rushing attack with more than 770 yards (nine TDs) for the Governors. Ahmann Tanner (6-0, 200) and Prince Momodu (6-0, 204) have combined for more than 770 additional yards on the ground to provide some depth at the position.
AP also has a pair of quality receivers in speedy DeAngelo Wilson (5-8, 165) and Baniko Harley (6-1, 181), who have been among the top pass catchers in the Ohio Valley Conference all season. Wilson paces that duo with 1,378 yards on 76 receptions and 14 touchdowns, while Harley has caught seven touchdown passes of his own.
The Governors have an active defensive unit that shined last week against the Hornets and look to repeat its performance against MSU. Jack McDonald (6-0, 210) leads the way from his linebacker position with more than 100 total tackles, while teammate Juantarius Bryant (5-10, 203) has added nearly 100 tackles of his own from his defensive backfield position. Pat Walker (5-10, 210), a linebacker, has also posted impressive numbers of his own this season for the Governors.
Two players who have somehow gone under the radar for most of this season on defensive linemen Josephus Smith (5-9, 825) and Shaun Whittinghill (6-3, 255) who have combined for 29.5 tackles for loss. Smith leads that tandem with 19.5 TFLs.
Montana State Bobcats
Montana State has the ability to score points whenever it has the football. The Bobcats average 34.8 points game and total more than 439 yards of offense per contest this season.
Most of the production comes in the form of running the football. The Bobcats average 264.9 yards per game on the ground and just 174.6 yards per game through the air.
Key players: Tucker Rovig, a 6-5, 220-pound senior, leads the MSU offense from his quarterback position. He has completed 146 of 237 passes for 1,705 yards this season and has thrown 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
The running attack in paced by a trio of players who have combined for nearly 2,000 yards on the year. Logan Jones (5-7, 186) leads that group with 807 yards on 122 carries (6.6 ypc) and eight touchdowns this season. Isaiah Ifanse (5-10, 202) has added 557 yards on 89 carries (6.3 ypc) and five touchdowns, while Travis Jonsen (6-4, 211) has gotten in on the action from his wide receiver position with 517 yards on 74 carries (7.0 ypc) and seven touchdowns on his own.
Kevin Kassis (6-0, 202) is the lone receiver with any significant numbers. He has caught 61 passes for 802 yards on four touchdowns. Teammate Coy Steel (5-9, 177) has added an impressive four touchdowns despite having just 20 receptions for 277 yards.
The Bobcat defense is led by Callahan O’Reilly (6-2, 228) and Bryce Sterk (6-5, 261). O’Reilly, a linebacker, leads the team with 74 (39 solo) tackles, while Sterk has added 59 (41 solo) tackles of his own. Sterk has also amassed a whopping 20 tackles for loss and teammate Amandre Williams has 16 TFLs of his own as part of his 57 (29 solo) tackles this season.
Fearless Prediction: Austin Peay continues to impress and roll along: Austin Peay 34, Montana State 21
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.