CLARKSVILLE — The tears in senior defensive lineman Nii Lartey’s eyes told the story on Senior Night.
A group of 18 seniors have witnessed another disappointing season unfold in front of them, with the journey ending on Saturday against Tennessee Tech. Lartey has only been in the program for a couple years,, but for the four-year players, only six wins have accumulated dating back to 2011. The emotions were difficult to hide for most after the final huddle, knowing it was the last game of their collegiate careers.
The end result added onto the hurt, with APSU falling to the Golden Eagles 41-15 at Governors Stadium, a game where the home team had chances.
After the Govs recovered a fumble in the first quarter, the second turnover forced by APSU, quarterback Trey Taylor pulled off arguably the play of the year.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Taylor saw freshman receiver Wesley Thomas in one-on-one coverage, and hit his target in stride. Eleven seconds later, Thomas took off for an 80-yard touchdown, the second-longest play from scrimmage for APSU this season.
“He just came open,” Taylor said. “I felt pressure and just wanted to hit him and not miss.”
Taylor went 18-of-32 on passes for 224 yards, while also rushing for 27 yards. Thomas caught six passes for 141 yards and the lone touchdown.
The touchdown bomb tied the game at 10-10, and the Govs eventually went into halftime trailing by four. But the Govs were set up in a great position to reach the end zone a second time before the horn sounded, only to turn the ball over on downs after an unsuccessful pass to the corner of the end zone.
Execution in the red zone became a key component for the Govs, going inside the 20-yard line four times, but only got six points in those chances. Freshman kicker Dakota Vincil was able to convert two field goals from 28 and 20 yards, while the other two opportunities resulted in giving the ball back to the opposition.
“We wanted to sustain a drive and keep doubt in Tennessee Tech’s mind,” APSU head coach Kirby Cannon said. “When you get inside the red zone, good teams score, and it’s very disheartening. I think we had over 400 yards of offense tonight, but in reality, you can throw that away if you get there and don’t score.”
The Govs felt confident going into the break within reach, while also knowing they would receive to begin the second half. However, a three-and-out would quickly change possession, and TTU didn’t look back in outscoring the Govs 24-2 in the second half. Two scores came from receiver Cody Matthews en route to netting 10 catches for 171 yards on the evening, with the Golden Eagles having three different players throw for touchdowns in the contest.
After a 24-yard field goal by John Arnold, Lartey continued to build on his career-day with a tackle for loss in the end zone, resulting in a safety. The senior made a team-high 12 tackles, three of which coming behind the line, in his first start of the season.
“When I found out I was starting, my mindset was go all out,” Lartey said. “I just gave it my all.”
Ladarius Vanlier would nail the dagger in the final six minutes with a 84-yard touchdown burst, leading to TTU accumulating 542 yards of offense.
Despite the misfortunes for Cannon in his two years at the helm thus far, the attitude remains the same. While several seniors depart the program, Cannon is excited for the future as another recruiting class will add to the mix of talent already on the roster.
“Our freshman class is full of OVC-level players,” Cannon said. “Now we’ve got to get another class right next to it, and then another one after that. This program is in good shape right now. We’ve got a disciplined team, and we give great effort in everything we do.”
“Now we’ve got to go to where production and performance become the next goals.”