MURRAY — In front of a raucous home crowd, Murray State rode nearly 300 yards of rushing offense to a win over Pikeville last night in their season opener.
It took just one touch of the football for the Racers to gain the lead and they never looked back, winning the game 59-20 over the Bears. After giving up an opening field goal drive, the special teams unit headed out to the field for the kickoff return. That’s when Quinaz ‘Pig’ Turner fielded the kickoff and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown, the lead and a big answer to the Malik Honeycutt replacement questions.
Junior running back Rodney Castille said he and Turner have a friendly rivalry going as return men and Turner got the first set of bragging rights on his first touch.
“Pig is one of my best friends. I’m a punt returner and he’s a kickoff returner, and we talked with each other like, ‘I bet I could return one before you,’ so when he caught it and broke I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Castille said. “I knew he was going to return it. We have no doubt when they are back there, him and DeQuan Dallas, both. DeQuan is an explosive player and can make the same play just as fast.”
It was a great way to respond and brought energy to the sidelines after a slow start that seemed lifeless from the defensive side. The score also got the crowd of 6,829 buzzing with excitement. Head coach Mitch Stewart said he was very pleased with the attendance and hopes that it will continue throughout the year.
“The biggest statement I want to make is a statement to the fans,” Stewart said. “I think that was one of the bigger crowds we’ve had, other than homecoming and Family Weekend, and on a Thursday night that is pretty impressive. We did some things where we moved the students down and had them sitting right behind our bench and I think they really enjoyed that. I know our team really enjoyed that atmosphere that they created for us.”
The win wasn’t the prettiest but it was fun for the guys and fun for the fans.
“The fun is in the winning,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t matter who the win is against or how you played, the good things you did and the bad things you did, because boy, we did a lot of bad things tonight….but the fun is in the winning and the winning is in the work.”
Some of the big things that need to be cleaned up following the win are penalties. more importantly, the unsportsmanlike penalties that are a focus for referees this year at the college level. The Racers had three and Stewart was not happy about it, to say the least.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we need to clean up, and I didn’t think our energy or effort was there for 60 game minutes,” Stewart said. “Hustle penalties are ok. If it’s a hustle foul, hey man, I’m good. As a matter of fact, I would’ve liked for us to have a lot more hustle fouls tonight. Non-hustle fouls…unsportsmanlikes, and things like that, are uncalled for, uncalled for. So we are going to attack them and get them fixed and those guys knew it as soon as they did it.”
An old face in a different place, Brion Sanchious, made his transition to the football team complete on Thursday when he snagged a pass on the opening offensive possession. That was the good. Then came the bad. He earned the first unsportsmanlike penalty of the game for the Racers when he tried to go back to his roots and dunk the football over the goalpost. His dunk came up short but that didn’t change the penalty decision for the official.
“I told Brion if you’re going to do something like that, I know it’s your first touchdown catch, and that’s a big moment, but if you’re going to go dunk the field goal at 6’7” you at least better make it over the crossbar,” Stewart said.
Offensively, the Racers rode the ground game to a tune of 278 yards and four touchdowns. Seven different players had at least one carry. Jared McCray led the way in yards at 78 with two TD’s.
“We never really go into a game with a set installed plan, because things change throughout the game,” Castille said. “After the first drive we came out with a couple of zones and saw that it was hitting good and we could reach the front side, so after that, we adjusted our playcalling.”
The continued success on the ground was a testament to the way the coaching staff paid attention to the details as the game went on.
“It’s football math,” Stewart said. “We get out there and we didn’t know a whole lot about them. We didn’t know the personnel and things like that. So it’s just taking what they give you. If they are light in the box run it and if they are heavy in the box throw it… I thought the offensive staff did an excellent job at that and communicating what they were seeing and we had a lot of different running backs touch the rock.”
Quarterback Preston Rice had the most carries with 11 for 69 yards. He also had a solid performance through the air going 20 for 31 for 170 yards and 2 TDs.
“Coach Coleman told me after the game, he said, ‘He (Rice) played exactly how I thought he would,’ and that’s good,” Stewart said. “The thing that I’m most pleased and impressed with is that he took care of the football. 20-31 and didn’t turn it over, and really only made probably one or two poor decisions, but we’ve known from the beginning that we were going to have to live with some of those because that’s the type of player he is. Sometimes it’s bang or bust, but I thought he did a tremendous job spraying the ball around and getting a lot of people involved.”
Coach Stewart said he has no worries about Rice being the leader in carries for the night. He is comfortable with the decisions Rice will make throughout the year.
“I want a guy like Preston Rice doing whatever he wants to do to help this team win football games, because he will do whatever he has to do to help this football team win games,” Stewart said.
Jacob Bell was the leading receiver with four catches for 72 yards and a score. Castille added six catches out of the backfield for 25 yards.
UPike quarterback Bowen Smith led the way for the Bears. Smith finished the game 15 for 29 passing for 185 yards and a TD; he also rushed for a TD.
Xondre Willis led the UPike rushing attack with 60 yards on the ground.
Damiam Sutton hauled in a 48-yard TD catch before the halftime buzzer for the Bears.
Next up for the Racers is a road game against Georgia in Athens, Georgia on Saturday, Sept. 7
UPike will be back on the road next Saturday as the Bears travel to Reinhardt for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.