Photo Credits: Dave Winder
After a sluggish first half, the Murray State football team put the hammer down in the second half of Saturday’s game against Eastern Illinois at Roy Stewart Stadium in Murray, Kentucky. The Racers rushed for 95 yards and threw for an additional 123 in the second stanza to grind out 15 points and the eventual 24-17 win.
In a game filled with big moments, none was perhaps bigger than Cortez Roberts stop of DeWayne Cooks, Jr. inside the Racer one-yard line as time expired to seal the win for the Racers. Another game-saving play for Murray State came in the second when Dytarious Johnson returned a fumble 49 yards to the Racer four yard-line where Jacob Bell stripped the ball away, allowing Jared McCray to recover the ball in the end zone to save a defensive touchdown.
Murray State got out to a hot 9-0 start in the game with a first quarter touchdown from Preston Rice to Armani Hayes, followed by a safety from TJ Warren. However, with a field goal late in the third quarter, Eastern Illinois took a 10-9 lead that forced the Racers to play catchup.
Catch up, they did though, as they scored 15 points on touchdowns from James Sappington and LaMartez Brooks and a two-point conversion, also from Sappington. The Panthers did score in the fourth and thought they had a chance to tie or win the game at the end, but Cooks fell short of the goal line, as did EIU’s shot at the victory.
Preston Rice completed 19 of 29 passes Saturday for 274 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, while DaQuon Greeen led all receivers with four catches for 71 yards. The running back tandem of D’Andre McMillian and Jared McCray combined for 91 yards with McMillian racking up 51 yards on six carries and McCray rushing the ball 10 times for 40 yards.
Defensively, Anthony Koclanakis had another monster game for the Racers with 14 tackles including 1.0 for a loss of two yards. Kendrick Catis followed Koclanakis with a big outing of his own with 12 tackles including a game-high eight solo stops, 1.0 tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup.
Perhaps no player had a bigger day than Warren though, as he recorded a safety, five tackles and 2.0 tackles-for-loss for a total of eight yards. In addition, the senior called a fake punt from the field in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-nine from his own 34-yard line and rushed for 30 yards giving the Racers a first down on a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
Murray State returns to action next Saturday when it travels to Nashville to take on Tennessee State at Hale Stadium at 2 p.m.
The win over the Panthers was the first in Murray since 2011 for the Racers. In addition, Murray State has now won three of the last four meetings, marking the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1997-2000.
The safety by Warren was the first for Murray State in eight seasons. The last safety by the Racers came in 2011 in Itta Benna, Mississippi in the their 39-0 win at Mississippi Valley State.
The 14 tackles by Koclanakis marked his third double-digit performance of the season. Through six games this year, he has amassed 61 total tackles including the 32 in the last two games combined.
Murray State limited EIU to just five third-down conversions in 16 tries Saturday, setting a team season-low against Division I opponents.