CLARKSVILLE, Tenn — As the fourth quarter started on Homecoming night at Governors Stadium, a comfortable feeling swept across the home sideline with Austin Peay leading by 11 points.
But it was only a matter of time before Tennessee State found its rhythm on offense against a depleted APSU secondary, outscoring the Govs 22-7 in the final stanza to shock the home crowd with a 31-27 victory.
The Tigers (5-6, 2-5 OVC) totaled 193 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone, led by fifth year senior quarterback Michael German and his favorite target, Weldon Garlington. The duo hooked up for three touchdowns in the contest, including two scores late in the game. A four-yard connection with 4:50 remaining cut the APSU lead to 27-24, with TSU converting a two-point conversion from 15 yards out following a personal foul penalty after the score.
APSU (1-9, 1-5 OVC) failed to move the ball on its next possession, forcing Ben Campbell to punt backed up in his own territory. The Tigers set up shop at midfield with 2:46 to play, and German, with the help of his receivers, moved the ball inside the 10. With under 40 seconds on the clock, the Tigers attacked cornerback Rod Owens with a quick slant pattern, and German hit his target Isaiah Freeman to give the quarterback 395 yards and four touchdowns on the evening.
The capacity crowd on the APSU side fell silent, stunned as they watched a double-digit lead vanish in a matter of four and a half minutes.
The Govs had one final chance with 27 seconds left, but the result was four incompletions to turn the football over on downs.
“It’s a tough loss, worse than last week losing 56-0,” linebacker Antonio Turner, who recorded a team-high 14 tackles, said. “We just have to improve on the mistakes made this game, and if we go into the next game with the same attitude, we’ll win.”
On the first play of the game, starting quarterback Darrien Boone dialed up a play action pass to tight end Trey Salisbury, just the fifth reception by an APSU tight end this season. Despite punting on the opening drive, the Govs came back on their second possession to lead a six-play, 71-yard drive which resulted in a touchdown run by Otis Gerron from eight yards out.
The APSU defense stepped up on multiple occasions in the first 15 minutes, beginning on the ensuing kickoff. Evan Toby elected to use a pooch kick, which bounced off the chest of a TSU player and into the waiting hands of Kyran Moore. Later in the quarter, the freshman recovered another fumble when tailback Darion Hall coughed it up on a big gain.
Despite Boone going 6-for-7 in the opening quarter, the Govs opted to bring in redshirt junior Trey Taylor at quarterback. Head coach Kirby Cannon said they had planned on using Taylor at some point, and the lefty quickly took control of the offense. After mixing things up with the ability to scramble, Taylor spread the ball around effectively. Once he reached the red zone, he hit Rashaan Coleman on an out route to go up 14-0.
“Coach always tells me to stay prepared, because you never know when you’re opportunity is going to come,” Taylor said. “That’s what I’ve been doing in practice. I just want to be able to compete and lead my team to victory.”
Taylor finished 8-for-17 on passes for 104 yards and the lone touchdown, while also rushing for 49 yards. Gerron led the way on the ground with 62 yards.
TSU answered back with their first points of the game, a 41-yard field goal by Lane Clark, and gave the ball back to the Govs with three minutes remaining until half. Taylor continued to make plays, fighting off defenders to eventually find Coleman across the field, but as the clocked ticked on, the Govs were out of timeouts. However, with seconds remaining until half, APSU was able to quickly rush the field goal unit onto the field goal to attempt the first of the season, and Dakota Vincil nailed it to take a 14-point lead into the break.
The Tigers received the second half kickoff, and marched down the field in just over two minutes. German exploited the APSU secondary in the second half as he hooked up with Garlington three times, with the first being a 58-yard bomb as he torched a defender on a go route.
Both defenses alternated in forcing turnovers on downs throughout the third quarter, until Coleman helped move the ball within striking distance. However, the Govs were forced to settle for three points again, and Vincil booted it through the uprights once again to take a 20-9 lead going into the fourth quarter.
APSU finished with a season-high 20 first downs, with six of them coming by way of penalty. The Tigers drew 15 flags in the contest for 167 yards, while also going the entire duration without punting.
Turns out, losing four turnovers due to violating NCAA policy on the camouflage jerseys with unit names on the back didn’t hurt the Govs all that much. For Cannon, he stands by his case that it was worth it after seeing the reactions from military men and women in attendance.
“It ended up not being much of a factor,” Cannon said. “But certainly, the benefit of wearing the jerseys was watching some of those soldiers with smiles on their faces. I was really impressed with the whole atmosphere tonight.”
Up next, the Govs travel to Southeast Missouri on Saturday, for the final road contest of the season beginning at 1 p.m.
Photo: Otis Gerron (Chris Malone/The All State)