Isaiah Norman still remembers the cigars.
He remembers a record crowd of 8,152 rushing the field and ripping the goalposts from the ground with 17 seconds remaining. He remembers at least two coaches tearing their shirts off during the locker room celebration.
The excitement wasn’t around a championship. Not even close. Austin Peay was going wild for one regular season win.
Norman recorded three tackles against Morehead State as the Governors snapped a 29-game losing streak on Sept. 16, 2017. Four years later, him and eight other teammates will relive their first win this Saturday.
“It reminded me a lot of college football,” Norman said. “Growing up you see fans storm the field, and I turned around and saw the fans storm the field. I saw the goalpost come down (and) I’m like ‘Wow. This is college football Saturdays; this is what it’s about.’ It was just an unreal experience for me personally.”
All-American defensive back Kordell Jackson tallied three tackles and Ahmaad Tanner rushed for 35 yards and a touchdown in the contest. Seth Johnson, Colby McKee, Hunter Scholato, Jack McDonald, Baniko Harley and Elijah Brown – other graduate students on this season’s roster – also viewed the historic moment from the sideline.
“That (win) definitely sticks out to me the most because it was the first one as a Governor,” Jackson said. “That night … when everybody was storming the field, I tried to literally take a moment, not move and just take everything in. It was honestly a blessing.”
Their losing streak was the longest in Division I football at the time and lasted almost four full seasons. APSU rushed for 10 touchdowns in the 69-13 win.
After the game, then 32-year-old head coach Will Healy – now leading the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to wins over Duke and Gardner Webb – said he wanted his team to “have more fun playing football than anyone else on September 16, 2017.”
They did just that and seemingly haven’t stopped. Since then, the Govs have won 28 games, including an Ohio Valley Conference Championship and their first-ever FCS playoff victory.
“We had to believe in the program before we even came here,” Norman said. “When we came here, we came with the mentality that we wanted to bring this university a conference championship. It wasn’t really a surprise because we came here with the mindset. It’s all a mindset, so we expected it.”
31-year-old Scotty Walden remembers being fired up about the celebration during his first season at Southern Miss. Former offensive line coach Joshua Eargle hired Walden as offensive coordinator at East Texas Baptist in 2013, and Walden kept tabs on the program after Eargle left ETBU in 2016.
Now serving as head coach at APSU, Walden and the Governors are among the 20 best teams in the FCS. He hopes to continue the program’s upward trend with Saturday’s noteworthy reunion.
“A lot of these guys that are seniors for us … they were recruited in that initial class, and they have seen their commitment through,” Walden said. “That is a rarity in college football today.
“They’re instrumental leaders on our football team right now. They’re paving the way for the young freshman class that we just recruited, which I feel is really special. They’re getting to see that leadership at an elite level from these guys, and I think it’s going to pave the way to take Austin Peay to new heights and new levels in the future. I’m really blessed that they’re the leaders of our program.”