Racers celebrate a score

James Sappington (left) and Armani Hayes (right) celebrate in the end zone after a TD catch by Hayes last week.

MURRAY — A win is a win is a win, that’s what head coach Mitch Stewart said after the win over Eastern Illinois last week. It wasn’t the prettiest game of the year for the Racers, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are now 1-1 in conference play as they hit the road to face off against Tennessee State tonight.

The Tigers (1-5, 0-2) are coming off a game against Jacksonville State that they lead at halftime and let slip away late. Despite the loss, the Tigers are playing with confidence because they know they can play with the best in the league and proved it last Saturday. Against the Gamecocks, they were able to put together a ground attack resulting in 230 yards. Head coach of the racers Mitch Stewart said he got to watch that game and saw the Tigers dominate the line of scrimmage. 

“I had a chance to watch the Jacksonville State game live after our game Saturday, and they played very well in that game,” Stewart said. “A lot of weapons. A lot of explosiveness that Tennessee State has and we’ve got our work cut out for us preparing for them.”

“This week we’ve got a very tough task ahead of us. Don’t let the record fool you. This is a very good football team. A very athletic football team, a very big football team, who has played every opponent that they’ve faced, up to this point, very well.”

Through six games, TSU has three rushers that have accounted for over 100 yards on the season and each has found the end zone. It’s a style of play that could give the Racers fits, especially if they have a bad day tackling like they did in the conference opener against UT-Martin.

“That Chris Rowland is as good of a player as you’re going to find,” Stewart said. “He’s not small. He’s short and built. Even in high school, when I saw him in person, he’s a little bowling ball of butcher knives. He’s very shifty and has great lateral speed, great vertical speed, and fearless in the return game. They do a nice job of getting him the ball. I think he’s their featured player and they’ve done a good job getting him the ball.”

Chris Rowland is the most threatening player for the Tigers in the aerial attack. Over the course of the season, he has 56 catches and 875 yards with five TDs. He’s averaging nearly 150 yards per game and has been a deep threat that makes defenses stay back which opens the running lanes up. However, he also gets involved in the rushing attack. The Tigers really try to get him a set number of touches each game.

“They have a great wide receiver, Chris Rowland, and I give my respect to him,” Co-defensive OVC Player of the week T.J. Warren said. “He’s a great athlete and I see that’s who they really want to give the ball to. It’s a tough team. They play grimy like us. They love football and they get after it. It’s going to be a fun game.”

If there’s a weakness on the Tigers side, it’s their rush defense. They’ve already allowed 1,376 yards on the ground, and if the Racers are going to have their first truly great game on the ground this year, this is the matchup that should provide them the opportunity. 

It’s a road test for the Racers, and they are looking for their first road win of the year still. It will come down to execution and consistency with the offense and physicality on the defensive side if the Racers are going to come out of Nashville with a win today.

“Don’t sleep on us,” Murray State wide receiver DaQuon Green said. “They know we are coming with a fight so hopefully they will be ready for it.”

“We’ve got to play consistent football,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to get back to trying to create an identity. I think that’s one thing that has petered off a little bit.”

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