Like most athletes on Austin Peay’s football roster, Drae McCray struggled with consistency at the midway point of the season.
A 30-14 loss at home to Southeast Missouri was the tipping point in a three-game skid for the Governors, who turned the ball over five times. McCray, a freshman wideout, had a season-low two receptions for 18 yards.
“During that time, we all faced adversity,” McCray said. “Anytime you lose three games like that you’re going to face adversity, but really we were just preaching to keep plugging away and eventually we’ll come out with some wins.”
McCray and the Govs saved their best work for the latter half of the season. The receiver ended his first year with a 237-yard, four-touchdown showing in a 48-20 win against Tennessee Tech.
His performance in the finale was the best by an APSU receiver in the past 50 years, and it helped the Governors (6-5) clinch their sixth winning season since 1985.
After a 2-4 start, APSU won four of its final five games and outscored its last three opponents 126-53.
“After that UT Martin loss we had a choice to turn it in or to respond,” said head coach Scotty Walden. “I’m so dang proud of the way we came to work every day, every meeting, every practice. We never wavered.”
McCray’s first touchdown came on a 73-yard screen pass in the second quarter, and he had scoring receptions of 22, 36 and 47 yards from there.
APSU never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 35 points in the fourth.
A Maddux Trujillo field goal and McCray’s first score set up a 10-point lead in the second. Ahmaad Tanner made it a 14-point advantage with a 1-yard rush, but Hayden Olsen and Quinton Cross kept it within four at the half.
Led by scores from Tanner and McCray – and two interceptions from Shamari Simmons – the Govs allowed one touchdown in the second half and outscored the Golden Eagles 31-7 in the final two quarters.
“The biggest lesson this year was the perseverance through adversity and learning and knowing to trust in your foundation,” Walden said. “I can’t emphasize that enough … that’s what these players did.”
Walden and company finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference and say goodbye to some of the most prolific players in program history.
Kordell Jackson and Baniko Harley, who did not play in the finale due to injury, depart alongside 21 other graduate students and two seniors.
“I’m blessed to be coaching these guys,” Walden said. “I’m so proud of them for finishing strong. Tonight was the culmination of that, and what a great win.”