They did it. They really, really did it.
Austin Peay rolled all over Eastern Illinois to win the Ohio Valley Conference championship for just the second time in school history and the first time since 1977 with a 35-7 win over the Panthers on Saturday.
The Governors and Southeast Missouri, which rallied to defeat Murray State, both finish with 7-1 records in OVC play this season. Both finished the regular season with identical 9-3 records.
The Governors earned the league’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs by virtue of their 28-24 win over the Redhawks last month. It is the first playoff appearance in Austin Peay history.
UT Martin, which wrapped up its conference schedule a week ago, had its slim playoff hope evaporate with a lopsided loss to Kentucky. The Skyhawks likely needed Austin Peay and SEMO to both lose and win against Kentucky to have any chance at advancing. That would have given all three teams a 6-2 record in league play and putting what playoffs hope there was the once place no team wants, in the hands of a selection committee.
Eastern Kentucky defeated perennial league powerhouse Jacksonville State finish fourth in the final standings with a 5-3 mark. JSU and Tennessee Tech tied for fifth with identical 3-3 league records.
Murray State and Tennessee State finished with 2-6 OVC records, while Eastern Illinois finishes the season with a 1-7 league record.
Governors Rule OVC For First Time in 42 Years
The benchmark has been set in Clarksville, Tenn.
For the first time in program history, dating back to 1930, Austin Peay has won nine games in a single season. And for the first time in school history, the Governors are heading to the national playoffs.
JaVaughn Craig hit Baniko Harley from 13 yards out on AP’s first offensive series to grab the early advantage.
J.J. Ross intercepted a Craig pass in EIU territory a short time later and the Panthers marched 75 yards to tie the game on a 47-yard run by Darshon McCullough for the only points of the afternoon for the visitors.
Craig, who added Rivers to his name earlier this week in honor of his stepfather, put the Govs back in front on a five-yard run. It was his seventh rushing touchdown of the season. Harley was instrumental in the drive as he caught two passes covering 30 and 39 yards to help SEMO down the field.
Craig scored his second touchdown of the day late in the second period from 19 yards out to stake the Redhawks to a 21-7 lead at the intermission.
Craig threw nine yards to Harley in the third quarter as SEMO extended its lead and then added a 40-yard scoring toss to DeAngelo Wilson early in the fourth quarter as the celebration began in earnest at Fortera Stadium.
Craig Rivers finished the day with 300 yards of total offense. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 235 yards and rushed for a team-high 65 yards on 10 carries. Harley led the receivers with 136 yards on six catches and Wilson added 62 yards on four receptions.
EIU, which was held to just 221 yards of total offense on the day, was led by McCullough’s 124 rushing yards which came on 20 carries. Jaylon Banks threw for just 35 yards after completing six of 10 passes. Two other players threw the ball of the Panthers and added just 11 more yards through the air. EIU top receiver was Isaiah Hill, who caught four passes for 34 yards in the game.
Redhawks Wraps Up Share Of OVC Title
Week after week Southeast Missouri has quietly continued to do everything needed to justify an appearance in the FCS playoffs.
But it wasn’t easy this time around.
Daniel Santacaterina threw for three touchdowns, including two in the final quarter of play, and etched his name in the school record book in leading the Redhawks to a 31-24 win over Murray State in the regular-season finale in Cape Girardeau on Saturday. It was the 13th consecutive victory at home for SEMO, currently the longest in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The win gives SEMO a share of the OVC title with Austin Peay. Both teams finished 7-1 in conference play and identical 9-3 records on the regular season. It is the first conference title in nine seasons for the Redhawks and just the second OVC title in school history. MSU ends the season 2-6 in the OVC and 4-8 overall.
SEMO trailed 24-17 heading into the final 15 minutes of the season knowing a loss would likely dampen any playoffs hopes.
That’s when Santacaterina and Zack Smith combined for a pair of scoring passes to provide the margin of victory. The first came on a perfectly thrown pass between a pair of defenders on a third-and-long situation just five seconds into the final period to tie the game 24-24.
SEMO’s defense stepped up with a crucial stop on fourth-and-two before the Santacaterina led the Redhawks on a 51-yard game-winning drive that was capped off on a six-yard pass to Smith with 8:57 remaining in the game.
The SEMO defense was called on again to help secure the win. That unit performed that task to perfection.
Clarence Thornton tackled TJ Warren for a loss when MSU faked a punt and Lawrence Johnson batted down a pass on a fourth-and-18 play by the Racers. Bydarrius Knighten’s pass breakup on a fourth-and-five closed the door as SEMO win for the sixth consecutive time. It is the first six-game winning streak in SEMO’s D-1 history.
MSU was averaging just 16.4 points per game, fewest in the OVC, heading into Saturday’s game. But the Racers surpassed that in the second quarter alone. They took a 10-3 lead on a 26-yard field goal from Zaden Webber with 11:33 remaining before halftime.
SEMO would respond when Santacaterina connected with standout receiver Kristian Wilkerson from seven yards out to tie the game 10-10 moments later. The drive covered 94 yards and took eight plays.
The Redhawks were able to take their first lead of the game on MSU’s next possession when Zach Hall intercepted a Preston Rice pass and ran 61 yards for a touchdown to put SEMO in front 17-10 at the 7:37 mark. Hall’s return tied for the eighth-longest in Redhawk history.
Behind Hall, the Racers managed to score the next 14 points on the half, which saw a total of 31 points scored. He completed a three-yard pass to LaMartez Brooks with 5:28 to go and added another scoring pass to Armani Hayes in the closing minute to give the Racers their 24-17 lead at the intermission.
Santacaterina completed 29 of 39 passes for 215 yards on the afternoon. His three touchdowns gave him 46 on his career to become the school’s all-time leader in the department. Wilkerson finished the game with 95 yards on 11 receptions and Smith added five catches for 27 yards.
Zion Curtis and Mark Robinson combined for 141 rushing yards on the day. Curtis led the ground attack with 86 yards on 15 carries and Robinson added 55 yards of his own on 12 carries in the contest.
SEMO’s defense, which allowed 286 yards of offense to the Racers in the first half, allowed just 114 yards in the final 30 minutes of play while keeping the Racers off the scoreboard.
Rice accounted for 357 yards of total offense on the afternoon for Murray State. He completed 34 of 48 passes for 284 yards and added 73 yards rushing. Johnathan Moss recorded a team-high 64 receiving yards on six catches. Hayes and Brooks finished with 51 and 21 yards, respectively.
SEC Kentucky Ends UT Martin Hopes
Kentucky scored the first 36 points of the game and never looked back as the Wildcats became bowl eligible with 50-7 win over UT Martin on Saturday in Lexington.
Kentucky, which is just 3-5 in SEC play, improved to 6-5 on the year with the win. The Skyhawks, meanwhile finished the season with a 7-5 overall record.
Kentucky racked up a school-best 462 rushing yards and its defense limited UT Martin to just 204 yards of total offense on a rainy afternoon at Kroger Field.
QB John Bachus completed 17 of 30 passes on the day for 157 yards and was intercepted once in the contest. Jaimee Bowe finished with a team-high 29 yards rushing on 11 carries and teammate Zak Wallace added 23 yards on seven carries. Five other Skyhawks combined to carry the ball 14 times as UT Martin was limited to minus-12 yards total on the day. Terry Williams caught eight passes for 74 yards in the game to lead the Skyhawks, while Colton Dowell chipped in with 41 yards on three receptions.
Kentucky had two players rush for more than 100 yards in the game. QB Lynn Bowden finished with 129 yards on 11 carries. Asim Rose added 105 yards on just six carries. Kentucky attempted just 11 passes in the game. Bowden completed one of his six passes, a nine-yard toss to Ahmad Wagner and teammate Walker Wood completed an eight-yard pass to Nik Ognenovic.
Kentucky closes its regular season Nov. 30 at home against Louisville.
Hayworth Sets New Mark As Colonels End Skid Against JSU
With the playoffs out of the question for 2019 Eastern Kentucky was looking for something, anything, to hang its hat on as the Colonels prepare for the offseason. Ending a long losing skid against the team that has dominated the OVC in recent years is a pretty good tonic.
EKU got five field goals from Samuel Hayworth to help the Colonels defeat five-time defending conference champion Jacksonville State 29-23 in the season finale on Saturday in Jacksonville. Hayworth made history along the way for the Colonels.
It marked EKU’s first win over the Gamecocks since defeating JSU on Sept. 22, 2012 in Richmond by a 51-21 score after defeating them in Jacksonville the previous season.
EKU finishes the season in fourth place in the OVC with 5-3 record. The Colonels wrap up the season with a 7-5 overall record. JSU, meanwhile, finishes tied for fifth with a 3-5 league mark and 6-6 overall.
The Colonels took the lead for good in the game with Alonzo Booth ran in from one yard out with 3:47 remaining in the third period and Hayworth’s conversion kick put EKU in front 23-16. He added a pair of field goals in the final quarter as the Colonels extended their advantage to 29-16 with just over three minutes left in the game.
JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper connected with KJ Stephenson for an 18-yard touchdown with 1:24 remaining and Bryant Wallace’s PAT accounted for the final points of the game.
That same combination teamed from 20 yards away to give the Gamecocks an early 7-0 lead in the first period of play, but a conversion pass from Wallace failed.
EKU managed to tie the game 6-6 on a pair of field goals from Hayworth in the first quarter. The first coming from 34 yards out before adding a 24-yarder later in the period.
The two teams traded field goals in the second period as a 21-yarder from Wallace put JSU a 9-6 lead with 5:07 left in the first half. Hayworth would connect for his third field of the afternoon with 15 seconds left from 25 yards away and the two teams went to the intermission deadlocked at 9-9.
EKU would grab its first lead of the game in the third quarter when Conor Blount hit Jackson Berman for a 17-yard touchdown pass at 12:15 of the period for a 16-9 lead. It was the only reception of the day for Berman.
The lead wouldn’t last long as Cooper completed a 40-yard pass to Jamari Hester and then threw 10 yards to Stephenson on the next play for a 10-yard scoring pass to tie the game with 9:29 left in the quarter.
Hayworth would hit from 50 and 28 yards away in the fourth quarter. His five field goals on the day tied the school record for most in a game. He finished with 17 points on the day to surpass the school record of 16 held by Jamie Lovett in a 1983 game against Youngstown State back in 1983.
Blount finished the game with 172 yards through the air after completing 18 of 35 passes. Daryl McCleskey led the way on the ground. He racked up 110 yards on 24 carries, while Booth added 54 yards on 16 carries on the afternoon. Jerome Cross caught six passes for 63 yards to lead the Colonels in that department.
Cooper completed 21 of his 35 pass attempts on the day for 311 yards and added a team-high 44 rushing yards. All three of his touchdown passes went to Stephenson, who finished with 80 yards on seven receptions. Hester led the Gamecocks with nine catches for 186 yards.
Quick Start Isn’t Enough For Golden Eagles In 37-27 Defeat to Tigers
Tennessee Tech scored 14 points, thanks to Andrew Goldsmith, in a span of 1:48 early in the game, but even that wasn’t enough as visiting Tennessee State scored the final 30 points of the game to come away with a 37-27 win over its in-state rival in the final game of the season for both teams.
It was just the second conference win for TSU, which finishes the season at 3-9 overall. Tech, meanwhile, finished with a 6-6 overall record. That is the most wins in a season since 2011. The Golden Eagles also matched OVC rival UT Martin and Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley Football Conference) for the second-best turnaround in the FCS as all three schools won five more games than a year ago. Tech had finished 1-10 in each of the last two seasons.
TSU trailed 27-10 at the intermission but scored a pair of touchdowns in the third period to grab the lead. The Tigers closed to within 27-16 when Te’kendrick Roberson run in from 14 yards away with 11:05 left in the third period. They would later cut it to a 27-23 deficit when Chris Rowland hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass from Cameron Rosendahl with 6:46 to go in the period.
The Tigers would take their first lead midway through the final period on a three-yard run by DeMarco Corbin with 6:34 remaining in the contest. Jordan Bell closed the scoring when Jordan Bell recovered the ball in the end zone on a punt attempt for a TSU touchdown with 4:44 to go.
Goldsmith opened the scoring for Tech in the first quarter when he found paydirt on a three-yard TD run on the its first drive of the game at the 12:02 mark of the opening period. Samari Burns recovered a fumble by TSU on the ensuing kickoff and Goldsmith scored for the second time by going in from nine yards out for a 14-0 lead with 10:14 before the Tigers were able to run an offensive play.
Tech would get a pair of field goals from Haidar Zaidan from 23 and 32 yards away in the second period to extend the lead to 20-0.
Tennessee State would finally crack the board on a 35-yard touchdown run from Seth Rowland with 3:10 to go before halftime. The Tigers would tack on a field goal from Antonio Zita from 30 yards with 18 seconds remaining in the half after Tech QB Bailey Fisher connected with David Gist on a 45-yard touchdown toss with just over two minutes left in the period.
That pass moved Fisher past Michael Birdsong for the most passing yards in a single season in TTU history. He later surpassed Robert Craft for the most pass attempts in a single season for the Golden Eagles.
Rosendahl finished the day with 225 yards through the air after completing 23 of 30 passes. Roberson paced the Tigers with 70 yards on the ground after rushing 15 times and Rowland added 56 yards on five carries. Rowland also caught 12 passes for 148 yards in the contest.
Fisher finished the season finale with 264 yards of total offense. He had 93 yards rushing on 22 carries and ended with 171 yards through the air after completing 12 of his 23 pass attempts.
In all, Fisher broke six single-season records for the Golden Eagles this season. He is now atop the school charts in passing yards, pass completions, pass attempt, passing touchdowns, total offensive yard and combined rushing and passing touchdowns.
Gist ran for a team-high 107 yards on 18 carries and added two receptions for 54 yards to finish with 161 all-purpose yards for the Golden Eagles. Teammate Metrius Fleming added four catches for 44 yards. Goldsmith finished the day with 48 yards on seven carries
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.