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Opportunistic Govs pick up first OVC win

Robert Smith/APSU Athletics Communications










By Jimmy Trodglen


CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – To have any chance at an OVC title or a playoff berth, Austin Peay knew it couldn’t start conference play 0-3.

The Govs, already coming off losses to UT Martin and Jacksonville State, knew a loss to TSU would take them out of any hopes of accomplish those objectives.

Austin Peay also knew its series with TSU was punctured with historically close and late-game theatrics.

Austin Peay and TSU combined for 936 offensive yards, but ultimately it was the Govs’ defense that proved to be the difference in a 49-34 win before a record-crowd of 12,201 at Fortera Stadium Saturday.

“I thought this was as important a game as we’ve played here,” Govs coach Will Healy said. “I knew we were playing a great football team. I knew we would play a team that was playing for a lot more than just a football game. Our backs were against the wall.

“I was really interested to see how we would respond after the last two weeks and I’m very proud of the way our kids came out tonight.”

The Govs forced the Tigers into five turnovers – four fumbles and an interception – and recorded four sacks to beat the Tigers in consecutive seasons for the first time since winning three-straight from 2009 through 2011.

“I thought our defense continued to battle and the turnovers that we created were enormous,” Healy said. “Brandon Cooper (Govs defensive coordinator) and his staff have done an unbelievable job.

“I thought our kids on defense responded when they needed to.”

Austin Peay linebacker Gunnar Scholato finished with 17 tackles, one shy of his career-high, and Malik Davis had 10. The Govs withstood a TSU offense that ran 94 plays and held the ball seven minutes longer.

“The defense played tremendous,” Scholato said. “We were all flying around. We were having fun and when everyone is doing their job it makes my job easier. I can’t give enough credit to everyone around.”

Offensive production

Austin Peay finished with 447 yards on 64 plays and scored on its six chances inside the red zone. TSU ran 94 plays for 489 yards, but the four fumbles – three from quarterback Demry Croft – presented the Govs with ideal field position.

“It was big defensively to get those turnovers and big offensively to capitalize,” Healy said. “I thought field position in this game was totally swapped from what it had been the last two games.”

Govs quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall threw for 189 yards and a touchdown and ran for 76 yards and a pair of scores. Kentel Williams added 74 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns. The Govs finished with 258 rushing yards.

How it happened

The game was tied three times in the first half before the Govs took a 28-21 margin into halftime on Oatsvall’s 1-yard TD run.

The Govs built a 42-24 lead on DJ Montgomery’s leaping 23-yard catch in the back of the end zone with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

TSU closed to within 42-34 on Chris Rowland’s 4-yard pass from Michael Hughes, but the Govs sealed the win with Tre Nation’s 1-yard touchdown run with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter.

Up next

Austin Peay travels to Southeast Missouri for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday. TSU plays at Murray State.

Injury note

Austin Peay quarterback JaVaughn Craig, who is also the holder on field goal attempts, was injured following a blocked field goal midway through the first quarter.

The Tigers blocked Logan Birchfield’s 43-yard field goal attempt and the block was returned 40-yards by LaQuarius Cook.

Craig was injured where the tackle occurred along the TSU sideline.

Healy said following the game he didn’t know the extent of Craig’s injury.

“Obviously it makes you a little nervous about the quarterback position,” Healy said. “When he goes down, because we expected him to play at quarterback tonight, so when that happened we had to change what was going on tonight.”

Mr. 300

Scholato, who was a walk-on when he joined the Govs as a freshman, went over 300 career tackles becoming the 15th Gov to reach the milestone.

“It’s an honor,” Scholato said. “300 is a lot and from being a walk-on to being where I am now, it’s unbelievable and I am really proud of myself.”

“I thought Gunnar made some big plays in space, too,” Healy said. “Gunnar is Mr. Consistent. He’s going to show up and produce in every single game.”

Notes: TSU now leads the series 13-8. …  The Govs’ 49 points were the most points scored in an OVC game since scoring 55 points against UT Martin in its OVC finale during the 1996 season. One year later, Austin Peay dropped to nonscholarship football. … Baniko Harley, who moved from quarterback to receiver during the offseason, caught a career-long 73-yard pass to set up a Govs’ short TD run. … Montgomery caught his fourth touchdown this season. … Austin Peay didn’t have a turnover for the first time since playing Southeast Missouri last season. … The Govs entered the season ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, average 241.8 yards. … The Govs have won four straight games at Fortera Stadium and six of seven dating back to the 2017 season.

Jimmy Trodglen, editor, Twitter@Tnsports360