TN Sports 360

Ellis throws for 359, Govs blow out Morehead State

APSU Athletics Communications

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. —An explosive offensive performance, highlighted by a career day from sophomore quarterback Draylen Ellis, gave Austin Peay an impressive 59-35 victory over Morehead State in Saturday’s home opener at Fortera Stadium. 

Austin Peay (2-1) has now won four straight against FCS opponents, dating back to last season, and four straight against the Eagles going to back to 2006. Morehead State falls to 1-2 on the season in a game that featured 579 yards total offense from the Governors — the highest tally thus far in the Scotty Walden era and the seventh-highest single-game mark in Austin Peay football history. 

After an exchange of punts to start the day, the Austin Peay offense found its footing on its second possession. The Govs took over at their own 23-yard line and embarked on a 14-play, 77-yard march that chewed up nearly five minutes of clock. Ahmaad Tanner moved the chains—34 yards on seven carries—and Draylen Ellis opened the scoring with a 17-yard strike to a streaking Eugene Minter for six. The Govs would tack on the conversion on a Trey Goodman-to-Elijah Brown toss for two more points. 

Morehead State had a quick reply, embarking on a 13-play drive of its own to chew up 75 yards and take another 4:55 off the clock. The Eagles converted three third-down conversions on the drive, including a dubious pass interference penalty whistled on Johnathan Edwards which negated what would have been a drive-stopping interception. On third-and-10, Mark Pappas found Tavin Davis for 32 yards, down to the Governor goal-line—two plays later, Issiah Aguero punched it in for a score, although the Govs stopped Morehead State’s two-point attempt. 

The Govs ensuing drive ended in a punt and Morehead State was on the march again when one of Austin Peay’s senior leaders took the ball and changed the game’s momentum. Jack McDonald stepped in front of a Pappas pass and raced 30 yards, untouched, to the end zone, his third career interception and first career pick-six. 

From there, the first-half momentum belonged to the Governors. The Eagles went three-and-out and the Govs followed up with a score as Ellis found Minter again from 26 yards, marking the second multi-score game in Minter’s Austin Peay career.

The Eagles went three-and-out again two drives later—and again the Govs struck with Tanner finding the end zone, breaking through the line of scrimmage and into a vacant Morehead State second level. He rumbled 26 yards into the end zone.

Edwards officially hauled in a pick in the end zone to end the next Eagle possession and helped send the game into halftime with Austin Peay comfortably ahead 28-6. 

After an Austin Peay punt to open the second half, Morehead State put points on the board with a methodical 13-play, 84-yard drive. The drive opened with Pappas passes to BJ Byrd (30 yards) and Earl Stoudemire (24 yards) to get deep into Austin Peay territory, then Byrd took it the final six himself to shrink the Austin Peay advantage. Again the Eagles went for two, and again were denied by the Govs. 

Austin Peay had a quick response. Three Tanner carries had the Govs near midfield before the drive appeared to stall; however, on third-and-15, Ellis hit D.J. Render for 36 yards and two plays later he found Baniko Harley from 36 yards out for the score, marking Harley’s third consecutive game with a touchdown reception. 

Following a Morehead State field goal late in the third quarter, the Govs were knocking on the door of the Eagle goal line to start the fourth, and on the first play of the final period, Tanner found paydirt for a second time from a yard out. His third career multi-score game should have rendered any hopes the Eagles might have had for a comeback largely moot, still with 14:58 to play. 

Instead, the teams would combine for 37 more points in a wild final quarter of action which included more than 300 yards total offense just in the final 15 minutes. 

The Govs would tack on a 45-yard Maddux Trujillo field goal, while Chance Harris would conclude a fourth-quarter Morehead State drive with a two-yard score of his own. With the backups in the contest, a Neyland Jean-to-Trey Goodman hook-up—on the first pass of Jean’s collegiate career—netted 31 yards and the first collegiate touchdown for both young Govs, while Morehead State reserves Grady Cramer and Kyle Daly hooked up for 35 yards and a score on the Eagles’ penultimate possession. 

Jevon Jackson capped off the scoring for the Govs, plunging in from a yard out for his first career score after a 41-yard Kam Thomas punt return brought the Governors to the goal line with just over two minutes to play. Morehead State got off a desperation heave as time expired from Cramer to Daly from 47 yards out to cement the final score. 

Ellis finished 21-for-36 passing with a career-high 359 yards and three scores, continuing a dominant trend for the Austin Peay signal-caller—he’s at 66-for-109 passing this season with 896 yards and eight touchdowns to just two interceptions through three games, numbers that balloon higher still (131-for-227 for 1,639 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions) if you include the final three games from last season. 

Nine different receivers were targeted for passes Saturday, with Harley (4-83), Drae McCray (5-86), Render (2-61) and Minter (3-57) doing big damage through the air. Tanner finished with 83 yards on 17 carries and his two scores, while also moving into eighth all-time in career rushing with 1,985 yards. 

Defensively, Koby Perry and Troy Henderson Jr. led the way with nine tackles apiece for the Govs, with Perry also credited with two stops behind the line. Kory Chapman also earned seven tackles and was credited with a pair of pass break-ups. 

The Govs will face a familiar foe on unfamiliar yet exciting ground next week. The Govs will square off against Eastern Kentucky—their former Ohio Valley Conference foe and future ASUN opponent—in a 2 p.m., Sept. 25, battle in Richmond at Roy Kidd Stadium.

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