OVC struggles against FBS, beats up on NAIA

Aldo Soto, Sports Editor

The Ohio Valley Conference kicked off its football season Thursday, when three teams beat NAIA opponents while Eastern lost 42-20 at Minnesota.
Overall, five OVC teams beat NAIA programs, while Jacksonville State, Austin Peay and Tennessee-Martin joined the Panthers in losing to FBS schools.

Struggles against the FBS

Jacksonville State, which was the preseason favorite to win the OVC, lost 45-7 at Michigan State.

Just like Eastern, Jacksonville State began its season playing against a Big Ten opponent and it did not go smoothly as Michigan State scored on six of its first seven possessions in the first half.

The Gamecocks’ offense managed one scoring drive that was led by backup quarterback Max Shortell in the third quarter. He connected with Markis Merrill on a nine-yard pass to cap off the nine-play, 54-yard touchdown drive.

Starting quarterback Eli Jenkins finished the season opener 5-of-13 for 82 yards. His first completion of the game was good for 32 yards, which was Jacksonville State’s longest play of the game. Shortell ended the game passing for 117 yards completing 10-of-18 passes.

Running back DeMarcus James, who was the preseason favorite to win OVC Offensive Player of the Year, only had three carries for 17 yards. His 12-game streak of scoring a touchdown was snapped by the Spartans’ defense.

The Gamecocks were outgained in total offense 565-244. The Spartans took a 38-0 lead into halftime and managed to keep Jacksonville State at 89 total yards in the first half.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook completed 12-of-13 passes for 285 yards. He threw three touchdown passes, which all came in the first quarter. The first two touchdowns from Cook went to Tony Lippett for a combined 135 yards (64 and 71 yards).

Austin Peay lost its fourth straight season opener Saturday against Memphis, as the Governors were shutout 63-0.

Memphis scored in its first six possessions, which included five rushing touchdowns. The Tigers were led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, who threw two touchdown passes and ran in two more touchdowns for Memphis.

The Tigers had five different rushers score a combined seven rushing touchdowns against Austin Peay.

The Governors had two quarterbacks making their debuts. Junior Trey Taylor completed 4-of-9 passes for 20 yards, while freshman Darrien Boone finished 2-of-7 for 10 yards.

Austin Peay gained a total of 146 yards, while Memphis racked up 545.

The Governors are coming off a 0-12, with their last win coming on Nov. 17, 2012, over Tennessee Tech.

Jalen Whitlow’s former team greeted Tennessee-Martin with a blow out win, as Kentucky started its season with a 59-14 victory.

Skyhawks’ head coach Jason Simpson played two quarterbacks, with Jarod Neal receiving the bulk of the action. Neal passed for 173 yards and a touchdown, while Dylan Favre was 5-of-9 for 42 yards.

Tennessee-Martin’s offense put up 398 yards, but Kentucky’s steady offense carried the Wildcats to a 52-0 lead before the Skyhawks score their first touchdown that came on a Najee Ray one-yard touchdown run with 12:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Patrick Towles completed 20-of-27 passes, for 377 yards and a touchdown for Kentucky.

Braylon Heard only had two carries for the Wildcats, but they both resulted in touchdowns, as he scampered to the end zone on his first attempt for 73 yards with 1:44 left in the first quarter. A little less than two minutes into the second quarter, Heard scored a 43-yard touchdown.

Mikel Horton also had two rushing touchdowns for the Wildcats.

Eastern, Jacksonville State, Austin Peay and Tennessee-Martin lost by an average of 42 points against their respective FBS opponents.

OVC dominates NAIA

Eastern Kentucky, Southeast Missouri, Murray State and Tennessee Tech all defeated NAIA programs Thursday, while Tennessee State made it five wins against lower division schools on Saturday.

The Colonels beat Robert Morris 29-10, behind a strong running performance that accumulated 407 yards. J.J. Jude scored four rushing touchdowns to lead Eastern Kentucky to the win.

Quarterback Bennie Coney struggled, though for the Colonels, throwing three interceptions and completing less than 50 percent of his passes (6-of-13). Jared McClain McClain threw for 134 yards, as he was 11-of-17 passing against Robert Morris.

The Colonels’ defense had a strong showing, allowing only 28 rushing yards all game.

Southeast Missouri had the most lopsided win, defeating Missouri Baptist 77-0.

The Redhawks rushed for 304 yards as a team and scored eight rushing touchdowns, leading to its most points in their FCS tenure.

Kyle Snyder was one of seven running backs to score a touchdown. He scored twice, as nine Redhawks had at least one carry in the season opener.

Snyder also threw two touchdown passes, as he completed 10-of-12 attempts for 198 yards. Missouri Baptist had 81 total yards compared to 581 for the Redhawks.

Murray State quarterback C.J. Bennett passed for 167 yards and threw five touchdown passes, as the Racers beat Union 73-26.

The Racers also ran for 298 yards, while the defense gave up 86 rushing yards. Union also scored two rushing touchdowns.

After Union scored its first touchdown with 3:26 left in the first quarter, Murray State scored 31 points and entered halftime with a 52-13 lead.

Union quarterback Chandler Whittlesey was 17-of-30 for 176 yards with a touchdown pass.

The Racers also had a punt return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown in the win.

Tennessee Tech’s Jared Davis threw two touchdown passes and running back Darian Stone ran in for another score, as the Golden Eagles won their season opener 33-7 against Kentucky Christian.

Davis also threw two interceptions and Tennessee Tech’s running game totaled 176 yards, averaging 4.4 yards against its NAIA opponent.

The Golden Eagles’ defense allowed 110 rushing yards, but did keep Kentucky Christian out of the end zone until the final minute of the game.

Tennessee State defeated Edward Waters 58-6, as the Tigers’ junior running back Tom Smith scored four rushing touchdowns while running for 151 yards on 12 carries.

Anthony Bass led the Tigers’ defense, recording two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and his first career interception. Tennessee State allowed 76 total yards and five first downs, while not allowing a single point.

The Tigers also had their first punt return touchdown since 2011, as De’Ante Saunders ran back a punt for a score, giving Tennessee State a 16-0 lead with a little more than 12 minutes to play before halftime.

With the win, Tennessee State is now ranked No. 14 in the Sports Network Poll and No. 16 in the FCS Coaches Poll.

Despite the loss at Michigan State, the Gamecocks are still in the top-10, as they are No. 9 in both polls. Meanwhile, Eastern is ranked No. 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 16 in the Sports Network Poll.

Aldo Soto can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].