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Validation and redemption; losing streak now extinct

Robert Smith/Contributing photographer

By Jimmy Trodglen

Editor

Clarksville, Tenn. – Will Healy had always wondered what it would feel like to have a bucket of Gatorade dumped on him.

The Gatorade bath has become a rite of passage for coaches who register unforgettable wins, whether it be a conference championship, beating your biggest rival, or ending a losing streak that’s been an dead weight around your program.

Healy experienced his first Gatorade bath, and the subsequent celebration will go down as a towering moment in Austin Peay football history.

Govs running back Kentel Williams ran for 203 yards, and quarterback JaVaughn Craig ran for four touchdowns leading Austin Peay to a decisive 69-13 win over Morehead State before a record crowd of 8,152 at Fortera Stadium Saturday.

It was the Govs’ first win since the 2014 season, ending a losing streak that overshadowed the program.

“I always wondered what that would feel like,” Healy said. “Eli, my little boy, I think he’s getting old enough to figure out, daddy why have you not had a Gatorade bath since you’ve been head coach and I always wanted that feeling.

“It takes your breath away,” Healy added. “It makes it feel real, but it’s the kids that are doing it more than anything. It’s the kids’ crazy way of saying, ‘thank you.’”

With 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Morehead State moved quickly toward its locker room, while the Austin Peay fans stormed the field, and joined the Govs in an almost organized and orchestrated tearing down of both goal post.

The uprights from both goal posts were paraded up and down the field, with the band joining in, and the celebration lasted well beyond the scoreboard counting down to no time remaining. Almost an hour after the game’s ending, one Austin Peay cheerleader was using a hacksaw to cut down the remaining piece of the goal post on the scoreboard end of the field.

“I woke up this morning and my wife put a comment up on the mirror in our bathroom and it said ‘If you dream, dream big, as big as the ocean blue,’” Healy said. “I’ve had a dream here for a long time that football would be important.”

The Govs snapped a 29-game losing streak – the longest losing streak in the nation – and provided a glimpse into the progam’s current direction.  Austin Peay’s coaching staff has assembled consecutive top-five national recruiting classes built on speed and athleticism.

“To me this was so much more about validation than it was what we are about,” Healy said. “There have been a lot of really special wins that have happened without being on the scoreboard with how kids’ lives have changed. But for them to be able to get a win and enjoy that atmosphere tonight, which was absolutely amazing, is icing on the cake.”

The Govs jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter and went into halftime comfortably ahead, 42-7. The second half was more of the same, with the Govs seemingly tying or breaking program records each time they had possession of the ball.

“It felt good to get that bad taste out of your mouth of going 0-11 last season and then losing the first two games,” said Williams, whose 203 yards came on eight carries. “It felt good coming out and getting the win and making history.”

The Gov finished with 668 offensive yards with 477 coming on the ground.  The Govs only punted once, with ten drives ending with touchdowns.

“We try to make a statement every week,” Craig said. “The statement that we proved is we are back. It’s been a long time coming for Austin Peay football and I think our fans were pretty excited, I think our community was pretty excited. As a team I feel like we are ready to roll.”

The Govs (1-2) will shift their attention to the last team they beat before the losing streak began. Austin Peay travels to Murray State Saturday, attempting to start a win streak.

“The focus shifts tonight,” Williams said. “When everybody leaves here we want everybody to get focused and come out Monday and get better. We want to enjoy this, but after tonight.”

Jimmy Trodglen, editor, Twitter@Tnsports360