Eastern Illinois running back Isaiah Johnson made his presence felt against Austin Peay. The Clarksville, Tennessee, native earned Ohio Valley Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors by rushing for 187 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries in the Panthers 52-21 victory on Saturday.
For the season, the senior has rushed for 603 yards on 89 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and has seven touchdowns. Johnson, who joined the team last year from Moorpark Junior College, has rushed for 1,286 yards in his two-year career at EIU, the 26th most in the program's history. He needs 18 yards to catch Jalen Whitlow at No. 25 and if he gets 171 yards, he can climb as high as 21st on the list.
The only thing that's been able to slow Johnson down over the past two seasons is injuries. Johnson has been dinged up at times, but when he's healthy, he's been difficult to stop.
"When he's healthy, he's hard to stop. He runs extremely hard. We were running into some stacked boxes which is something we don't normally do. When he's in the game and we get one-on-one with a safety, we feel good about that matchup," EIU coach Kim Dameron said. "We feel like we have a good chance to make something in one-on-one. We've been able to get him out on the perimeter more and he's done a really good job. Our offensive line has gotten better and our wide receivers are blocking well."
No. 6 Jacksonville State (8-2, 7-1)
After Southeast Missouri State lost to Murray State on Saturday, the Gamecocks had a chance to finish off a fifth-straight OVC title. JSU left little doubt in its game against Tennessee State as the Gamecocks jumped out to a 27-7 lead and went on to win 41-13.
JSU coach John Grass said this year's team has built its own legacy by adding to the stack of OVC titles that the program has over the last five seasons.
"I think this year's team, it goes for our goals for this year. After a loss, the goal was attainable so we are sitting right where we want to be and we are playing well right now. This team is peaking at the right time," Grass said. "This team is young and has learned some lessons along the way. We learned from those two losses. It is pretty special looking back over the last five years. The works that went into doing that and the people. That's what is special about this run that has been on. Not many can say they have won five in a row and it's a neat deal."
Wide receiver Josh Pearson has drawn the most headlines for his attention out of the receiving corps since he leads the OVC with 15 touchdown receptions and he had another good game on Saturday with seven receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown. However, teammate Jamari Hester had more touchdowns than Pearson on Saturday. Hester had nine receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
It's been 1A and 1B for the Gamecocks at wide receiver as Hester has 38 receptions for 572 yards and seven touchdowns. He's averaging 15.1 yards per reception.
"I think Josh, the year he is having is overshadowing Jamari, who is having a breakout year. He's playing well and is coming into his own as a receiver and he's a guy that has struggled in past years," Grass said. "This year he is solid and is a guy you can count on. He has had some big catches throughout the year. Really he is our number two this year and the receiving core is playing much better."
Southeast Missouri State (7-3, 5-2)
The Redhawks lost Saturday's game in excruciating fashion on Saturday. SEMO had a 31-0 lead in the second half but Murray State came back to take a 34-31 lead. The Redhawks went up 38-34 with 20 seconds left when Murray State won on a 79-yard kickoff return.
That cost the Redhawks a chance to win a share of the OVC title. SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said this is part of building a program.
"We've never felt like this because we lost a conference championship on Saturday. That is a different kind of pain. A pain that is tough to overcome and we are just trying to tell them the truth and the truth is that there is still a lot to play for," Matukewicz said. "We have one more football game and we could be in the playoffs. How awesome would that be? That's how we've gone about it. That will be huge."
Eastern Kentucky (6-4, 4-2)
Robert Morris took EKU to overtime on Saturday and the Colonels found a way to win, 40-39. The victory over Robert Morris guarantees EKU a winning season, the first one in Mark Elder's three-year tenure so far with the program.
Elder said the program still has to get to the point to where the team is competing for an OVC title.
"It certainly means a lot and shows that we are moving in the right direction. We have one more game and will reflect on it more at the end of the year," Elder said. "We are moving in the right direction. A year ago we invented ways to lose some close ones. This year it's the opposite. We are finding ways to win tight games which is great to see. I am pleased with the attitude and you can feel a different team when it's late in game. There's a sense of confidence and belief."
EKU started freshman Parker McKinney at quarterback, his first career start, and while his numbers were eye-popping, they are an improvement with what the team has been getting at the position this season. He was 17-of-34 passing for 186 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
"Parker is doing a good job. He had a couple of plays we would like to have back but he's doing a tremendous job considering he was running the scout team three weeks ago," Elder said. "These are some modest stats to brag about. His 50 percent completion percentage is better than what we've been doing and more touchdowns than interception so far. These are the standards but it's a raised performance from what we've done so far this year. Is he the guy of the future? We feel good about his future but that's to be determined in the offseason."
Murray State (5-5, 5-2)
After Southeast Missouri State took a 38-34 lead against the Racers with 20 seconds left, Malik Honeycutt was supposed to go out of bounds on the short kickoff return. He didn't. At one point he stopped in his tracks to avoid a tackler. He worked his way to the middle of the field and took off for a 79-yard touchdown with 3 seconds left.
Murray State won 40-38 in a game where the Racers were down 31-0 at one point. Honeycutt was named the FCS Special Teams Player of the Week.
"I was saying the same thing everyone was. 'Get out of bounds or get down' and then it turned into 'Go! Go! Go!' A lot of emotion and I can tell you I didn't get a lot of sleep on Saturday night. It took me a while to come down from that emotional roller coaster," Murray State head coach Mitch Stewart said. "I am very happy with the guys and that was quite the locker room celebration for the guys. A very emotional experience and that's a once in a lifetime game."
Quarterback Drew Anderson had about as bad of a first half as he could've had with three interceptions. Anderson led the charge in the second half. He finished 37-of-63 passing with 412 yards and four touchdowns.
"He did a nice job. He never had the look that he was defeated. He had a very focused look that he knew he made a couple of bad mistakes and he was ready to keep fighting," Stewart said. "That showed the confidence that he has and he righted the ship. I am proud of him to pull out that kind of performance."
Austin Peay (4-6, 2-5)
Governors coach Will Healy said EIU outplayed his team in all three phases of the game. Austin Peay's punting unit really helped the Panthers early in the contest.
Early in the first quarter, Austin Peay was forced to punt deep in its own territory. It was a short punt and EIU's Aaron Gooch returned it inside the 20-yard line and it turned into a touchdown run by Isaiah Johnson. Later EIU deflected a punt and the Panthers took over in Governors' territory. EIU later scored on another touchdown run by Johnson. Later Austin Peay had a 14-yard pooch punt that EIU was able to return for good field position.
Austin Peay only averaged 32.3 yards per punt on seven attempts in the 52-21 loss to EIU.
"Obviously we killed ourselves with field position. They took advantage of it. EIU came out ready to play and kept their foot on the pedal for 60 minutes," Healy said. "Our special teams did not help us. You are expecting to pin them back and all of a sudden they are at the 40. It's a momentum dagger. We didn't help ourselves on the punt team and we've been inconsistent in that area all year long."
Tennessee State (3-5, 2-4)
TSU lost 41-14 to Jacksonville State on Saturday that continued a trying season for the Tigers. Two of TSU's games early in the season were canceled due to severe weather - one with lightning and one due to a hurricane. Then linebacker Christion Abercrombie suffered a head injury against Vanderbilt and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Abercrombie has recovered and is going through rehab.
TSU coach Rod Reed said it's been a difficult season with all of the circumstances.
"It's been a really tough deal for the team emotionally along with physically. I've never been through a season quite like this and you have to play with the hand that you are dealt," Reed said. "Those are things you can't control but at no time has our team ever quit. We've always played hard and put forth a good effort. It's been a trying season. Those things, you just don't see."
UT Martin (2-8, 2-5)
The Skyhawks lost quarterback Dresser Winn to a shoulder injury four weeks ago to a shoulder injury and Joe Hudson has filled in. While he has played well at times, he has had some costly turnovers. On Saturday in a 38-13 win against Tennessee Tech, Hudson didn't turn the ball over. However, he did suffer an injury and could miss the last game of the season.
UT Martin coach Jason Simpson likes how Hudson took care of the ball this week.
"Joe is a competitor and he will go and compete and is a tough, physical player who can make some throws. When he doesn't turn it over, with the way our defense has been playing, it gives us a chance," Simpson said. "He's kind of a warrior. We will take it day-by-day and see where we are at the end of the week."
UT Martin's defense held Tech to only 214 yards and it continued a trend of solid defensive play throughout the season for the Skyhawks, who are third in the league with 386.2 yards allowed per game.
"We certainly have had three to four games where they have they played really, really well," Simpson said. "James Gilleylen had 15 tackles and that put him No. 7 on the all-time tackle list here at UT Martin. He's played really well and has had an outstanding career."
Tennessee Tech (1-9, 1-4)
The Golden Eagles were a young team to start the season and they have taken their lumps, including a 38-13 loss to UT Martin on Saturday. However, first-year head coach Dewayne Alexander has seen plenty of growth out of his team this season.
"There have been a lot of bright spots. The biggest thing the first year is getting everyone in the locker room on the same page. We have had to play a lot of freshmen and we hopefully won't have to do that moving forward," Alexander said. "Offensively we have started eight freshmen. We have seen them get better. I've been very pleased with those guys and they've shown progress. I am proud of the older guys. I am the third guy they've played for. That's always tough and I respect how they have hung in there."