Rejoice, Austin Peay. The nation’s longest losing streak is over.
Coming into Saturday, it had been 700 days since Governors Football experienced the thrill of victory. Eighteen games resulted in 18 losses, but head coach Kirby Cannon maintained a high confidence level. The community, University, and most importantly, the players, trusted the process, and it all paid off as rival Murray State traveled southeast to Clarksville.
The final seconds ticked down on the scoreboard which read 20-13, and the fans on the home side quickly moved from the stands to the field. As chants of ‘Let’s Go Peay’ filled the air, a mob of people surrounded the players, while Cannon, drenched with water, exchanged a hug with APSU President Alisa White, and later Director of Athletics, Derek van der Merwe.
It was an extraordinary night for everyone associated with APSU Football.
“It proves the investment will pay off,” Cannon said. “The kids deserve a great deal of credit. There’s nothing worse than going a whole season without winning. Just to be able to come back and play your best game, by far, after an 0-6 start just shows we’re doing something right. It shows we’ve got good kids who can get over disappointment, and that’s one of the life lessons football is supposed to teach. It was a special night for a lot of people.”
Before the game, Cannon told offensive coordinator Josh Richards not to play soft against the Racers, a team who came in averaging 34.5 points per game. Murray quarterback KD Humphries came in off a six touchdown performance last week, which earned him national attention. However, a stout Govs defense quickly silenced his momentum, forcing the Racers to turn the football over five times, including two interceptions by Humphries.
Sophomore Roderick Owens led the way in holding the Racers to a season low in points, intercepting two passes, recovering a fumble, while also making big stops in crucial moments. It was the first time since the home opener on Sept. 13 that the Govs have forced a turnover, an area Cannon stresses each week, which gave APSU a shorter field for the offense to create opportunities.
“We had some great stops, and our kids did a great job against their hurry-up, which had been just driving people crazy up until now,” Cannon said. “I just felt like the entire program was clicking. I think they (Murray) were ready to play, but we just changed the picture on them. I don’t know where to begin. It takes a lot of people doing things right to win a football game.”
The Govs saw glimpses of how this offense can perform in scoring 21 points at Mercer last week, and the results carried over. For the second-straight game, a group of freshmen carried the load at the skill positions, beginning with tailback Otis Gerron setting the tone early. The walk-on totaled 137 yards on 26 carries, and while he didn’t cross the goal line, it was his ability to move the chains which set up the three touchdowns.
All three came from the freshmen duo of quarterback Mickey Macius and receiver Jared Beard, who hooked up seven times for 88 yards. Due to an injury to Darrien Boone, Macius was given complete control of leading the offense, and made the most of it with a memorable performance. Macius missed just four passes, going 18-for-22 for 201 yards, and had complete confidence in Beard to haul in the three passes for scores.
The first came on the opening play of a drive in the second quarter at the 30-yard line, with Beard making a nice over-the-shoulder grab in the corner of the end zone. The Govs held a 7-3 lead at the half — the first time that’s happened since 2012 — but the Racers countered with a 24-yard score by Pokey Harris coming out of the locker room. However, until a late field goal by Murray to cut the deficit to seven points, it was the Macius and Beard show, as the combo scored from seven and 14 yards out.
Beard said he and his quarterback haven’t done anything special to create a connection, but when the team as a whole came together on the field, everyone followed their assignments.
“As you know, football is about heart,” Beard said. “It’s not about coming out and being the bigger, better, stronger team. I think for this program, it has allowed us to see who we can be as a unit. There’s no possible way that anyone can deny us that we played as team, and it starts with individuals doing their job. I think this allows us to see we can be great.”
The Govs will be on the road next Saturday at UT Martin, hoping to carry this level of confidence against the Skyhawks. Kickoff from Hardy M. Graham Stadium will take place at 2 p.m.
Photo: APSU President Alisa White and head coach Kirby Cannon (Chris Malone/The All State)