If the APSU football team was a literary novel, they would qualify as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Luckily for the Govs, their Jekyll first-half performance was able to propel them past their Hyde second-half performance to claim victory over rival Tennessee Tech on Saturday, Nov. 17, 38-31, in a game that saw APSU almost squander a 31-point half-time lead.
The game started with an ominous chain of events, with Tech fumbling the opening kickoff and APSU recovering the ball 27 yards from the goal line just to turn the ball back over two plays later on a Terrence Oliver fumble. What looked like a possibly sloppy game turned into a first-half romp.
After holding Tech to a three-and-out and getting a big punt return to the Tech 42 yard-line, APSU scored on the second play of the ensuing drive on a trick play when Oliver tossed the ball back across the field to quarterback Jake Ryan who then chucked it to the endzone, finding Jamaar Embry for a 38-yard touchdown reception. The Stephen Stansell extra point made the score 7-0.
Tech’s next drive would be their only bright spot of the first half, as they traveled 72 yards down the field, before being stopped at the APSU 9 yard-line. What looked like a strong response to the Gov’s opening score ended with zero points, as Tech’s Zach Sharp would miss a 26-yard field goal.
After the missed field goal, APSU opened the flood gates, scoring at will in the rest of the half, led by Ryan’s strong performance along with bruiser runningback, Reco Williams. Ryan would complete 17 of 24 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and the 6-1, 248 pound Williams would wear down the defense, rushing for 55 yards on 12 carries and having three catches for 20 yards.
After the Tech miss, APSU would score on four of its next five drives. Runningback Ean Pemberton would score from 16 yards out on their next drive, capping off a 13 play, 80 yard drive. The Govs would go three-and-out on their next drive, but Ryan would find favorite target, Devin Stark, for two touchdowns passes on a 2-yard fade route and a 14-yard pass. Stansell’s would boot a 43-yard field goal before Stark’s 14-yard touchdown catch to complete the scoring for APSU in the first half, sending the Govs into halftime with a comfortable 31-0 lead. That feeling of comfort would fade in the second half, as APSU and Tech would swap roles.
After only 139 yards of offense in the first half, 72 on one drive, Tech would explode in the second half for 355 yards and almost completed a monumental comeback while APSU only had 99 yards on just 20 plays, 38 less than the Golden Eagles.
After the Govs went three-and-out on their first drive, Tech would set the tone for the second half, marching 71 yards on 11 consecutive running plays. Tech’s Doug Page would punch it in from the one-foot line on third-and-goal with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter for Tech’s first score.
The Govs would get the eventual game-winning touchdown after forcing a fumble on Tech quarterback Darian Stone on the Golden Eagle’s next drive, and recovering it on the Tech 23 yard-line. Ryan would find Stark on the next play for a 23-yard touchdown on an acrobatic reception in the endzone. It was Starks third touchdown reception on the day. He finished the day with nine catches for 95 yards to go along with his three touchdowns.
Tech would score on its next two drives when Stone would find Tennessee transfer Da’Rick Rogers for a six-yard touchdown reception and Page would add another two-yard punch-in to make the score 38-21 early in the fourth.
Two plays later, Williams would lose a fumble and Tech would recover just 36 yards from the endzone, but the Govs would catch another break when Page would fumble on the 17 yard-line, allowing the Govs to keep Tech from scoring on the drive after turning the ball over in dangerous territory.
The Golden Eagles would score 10 points in their next two drives, kicking a 27-yard field goal with 2:12 remaining in the game to make the score 38-31, bringing them within a score of tying the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tech would recover the ball on a beautifully executed onside kick, putting the APSU faithful on the edge of their seats.
After opening the drive with a 14-yard pass, Tech’s luck would run out, as a holding call, false start and seven-yard sack would put the Golden Eagles in a third-and-32 position. Two consecutive incomplete passes would seal the victory for the Govs, giving them their first Ohio Valley Conference win in its season finale.
Ryan would finish the game 27 of 38 for 310 yards and four touchdowns, rising to the occasion in his final game to help keep APSU from blowing its 31-point halftime lead. The victory leaves APSU at 2-9 on the season, going 1-7 on OVC play. The team will look to rebuild next season, having to replace both Ryan and Stark along with center Jacob Langston, but they will return 10 of 11 players on defense.