By Darren Zancan
Eastern looked to get started on another winning streak this week against Austin Peay on Saturday.Last week the Colonels beat UT Martin for the 20th time in a row forcing five turnovers. This week the Colonels looked to win its 23rd straight game against the Governors.
Each team went on scoring runs, but in the end it was Austin Peay (3-4, 2-2 OVC) coming out on top 24-20, at Governor’s Stadium in Clarksville, Tenn.
The Governors struck quick with 14 points in the first quarter, taking the lead early 14-0. Eastern did one better, scoring 20 straight points in the second, but it wasn’t enough as Austin Peay found the end zone two more times to close out the upset win.
The difference: turnovers. Austin Peay forced four Eastern fumbles, capitalizing on three, and had an interception. Austin Peay had three fumbles, two of which the Colonels forced, but came away with zero.
“We still had a chance after all the turnovers,” senior offensive lineman Derek Hardman said. “Its just football and it can happen to any team. Once it gets in your mind, all the turnovers, it’s hard to get rid of.”
The Governors had a plan: run early and often.
Eastern’s defense has faced gun-slinging quarterbacks every week and was able to expose each quarterback’s weaknesses. Last week Patrick McClellan and Jeremy Caldwell each had two interceptions.
Not this week.
Governors quarterback Jake Ryan went to the air seven times. The run game went to the ground 54 times piling up 263 yards, led by Austin Peay running back Terrence Holt, against a usually stout Eastern defense. Key word, usually.
“Coach had us mentally ready, but we just did not produce,” linebacker Antonio Frederick said. “They came out and ran the ball at us and we just didn’t execute.”
The Governors’ first points were aided by a rare C.J. Walker fumble.
Eastern (4-3, 4-2 OVC) forced Austin Peay to punt early in the first quarter but on the Colonel’s first play of the drive, Walker ran 12 yards, but fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Austin Peay.
Holt, who finished with 16 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns, carried the ball three times for 26 yards on the drive. Ryan then capped the drive with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Mines.
Ryan finished 3-for-7 for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Eastern had a chance to get on the board, but another mistake set them back.
Pryor used three receivers on the ensuing possession but was forced to settle for a field goal when the drive stalled. The 37-yard attempt by kicker Logan O’Connor was no good.
Austin Peay capitalized on the miss.
Holt took a handoff and ran 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage giving the Governors a 14-0 lead after Stephen Stansell’s extra point.
“We thought we had everything figured out heading into the game,” Frederick said. “They were the number one rushing team in the OVC and had the number one rusher, but they still almost rushed for 300 yards. Now everyone is going to try and run the ball against us. We have to execute.”
Eastern’s offense comes in bunches. In the second quarter, they could not be stopped.
Eastern started at its own 27-yard line. Freshman quarterback T.J. Pryor found Garnett Phelps four times before hitting Shannon Davis for a 43-yard touchdown score, capping a nine-play, 73-yard drive.
Phelps had another strong game finishing with 15 receptions for 119 yards.
The Governors drove down field on the next possession, but Eastern blocked Stansell’s 45-yard field goal attempt giving Eastern the ball at their own 44-yard line.
Later, Pryor found Cody Watts and Phelps on consecutive 11-yard completions setting up Bruce Frieson’s 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14.
Even in the loss, Hardman continues to see improvement from his young quarterback, especially when finding open receivers.
“He is maturing,” Hardman said. “We got up to the line and T.J. saw the defense change their play so T.J. changed the protection. That was something I didn’t think he would be able to do four or five weeks ago. I can’t wait to see what else he does this year.”
Ryan drove his team down field again, this time attempting a fourth down conversation. Eastern’s defense would hold tight giving the offense another opportunity before halftime.
Pryor, who finished 26-for-40 with 265 yards and an interception, relied on his arm, and feet, to give the Colonels its first lead of the game.
Pryor found Phelps three straight times for 18, 12 and 17-yard receptions, then hit Watts with another pass, where he was tackled by Jasper Willams at the one-yard line. Pryor ran a quarterback keeper, giving Eastern a 20-14 lead. O’Connor’s extra point was blocked.
“When the offense came back, that shows why it’s a team game,” coach Dean Hood said. “We had been struggling on offense at that point and then the flood gates just hit.”
Austin Peay took control in the third quarter.
After a three-and-out by Eastern, Holt took O’Connor’s punt 41-yards to Eastern’s 22-yard line. Three plays later Holt rushed for a 12-yard score giving Austin Peay the lead 21-20.
Both teams had opportunities in the fourth quarter, but it came down to the team with the fewest mistakes.
Eastern started the fourth quarter with good field position at its 45-yard line. Pryor found Phelps for two completions. Pryor then scrambled for 5-yards to Austin Peay’s 13-yard line. Frieson took a handoff, ran 12-yards, but fumbled after being hit by Amius Smith.
The Governors recovered, but could not cushion its lead after Stansell missed a 39-yard field attempt.
With time winding down, Eastern would have to make something happen on their next drive.
Instead, Austin Peay came up with another fumble, this time Pryor, in the midst of a sack, coughed up the football. Austin Peay would recover and kick a field goal, this time from 24-yards out giving them a 24-20 lead.
Pryor tried one more time to bring his team back, but an interception on second down by Zac Burkhart iced the game for the Governors.
“Football is a great teacher of life,” Hood said. “There are a lot of times you do your best and it’s not good enough, or you make mistakes that you regret. Everyone feels bad about the loss, but what are you going to do now? Adversity reveals your character.