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EKU QB returns from injury, leads Colonels to OT win
Eastern Kentucky finally had some good fortune go its way -- and perhaps just in the nick of time to help save the Colonels' Ohio Valley Conference title hopes.
The Colonels, who had been playing without star quarterback Matt Guice since the season opener, welcomed Guice back from an injury and he played a major role in Saturday's 39-36 win at Samford in two overtimes.
Guice completed 13 of 21 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns as the preseason OVC favorite Colonels (1-3, 1-1) notched their first victory of the year. In 2003, Guice set a school record with 2,266 yards passing.
"We were fortunate to get Matt Guice back for that game. He's critical to what we've got going on," Eastern Kentucky coach Danny Hope said during Tuesday's weekly OVC coaches teleconference. "His coming back was a huge boost to our offense and also a huge boost to our football team.
"He's a heck of a competitor. We weren't as one-dimensional as we were in the first three games."
Tailback C.J. Hudson also played a major role in the Colonels' victory as he rushed for 202 yards on 40 carries. It was Hudson's second 200-yard career performance and marked the second-most single-game carries in school history.
"It was a heck of a football game," Hope said. "At this time for us to go on the road and get a conference win, it's really a boost for our football program."
For Samford (1-4, 0-2), it was a second consecutive heartbreaking OVC defeat. A week after losing at Southeast Missouri State University 51-48 in four overtimes, the Bulldogs used a furious fourth-quarter comeback to tie the contest before falling just short again.
Samford trailed 36-19 early in the final period but scored 17 straight points to force overtime. In the first extra period, the Bulldogs forced a turnover and had a chance to win, but their field-goal attempt was blocked.
Then, in the second overtime, Samford had a pass intercepted, and Eastern Kentucky ended things on Phil Kuhl's 49-yard field goal.
"We're wanting to know what we need to do to get it done," Samford coach Bill Gray said. "We're just a couple of plays away from being 2-0 in the conference ... physically and mentally we've had two ballgames that have been really tough for our guys."
Defending OVC champion Jacksonville State (4-0, 2-0) made its second consecutive strong statement by beating visiting Murray State (2-3, 1-1) 35-14, just one week after winning at Eastern Kentucky. Last year, the Racers handed the Gamecocks their only conference loss.
The Gamecocks are off to their first 4-0 start since the 2001 season, and they moved up from 22nd to 15th this week in the Division I-AA poll for their highest-ever national ranking on the I-AA level. They own the nation's longest current regular-season winning streak of 10 games.
"We lost up there last year and I thought our players still had memories of it," Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said. "I think Murray State is an outstanding football team. We're very pleased about winning."
Eastern Illinois also continued to look strong by winning its OVC opener 35-28 over visiting Southeast. The Panthers (2-2, 1-0) dominated the contest with 612 yards of total offense but some late special teams blunders nearly allowed the Indians (1-4, 1-1) to force overtime.
"We obviously did some good things, but the one area that almost cost us the game was our special teams play," said Panthers coach Bob Spoo, whose squad won at I-A Eastern Michigan the previous week. "We're happy to have a win, but we need to make some adjustments and improvements."
Saturday's other OVC game saw Tennessee Tech pull away in the second half for a 49-20 victory over Tennessee-Martin. The Eagles (3-2, 1-1) led just 14-13 at halftime before romping and avenging last year's setback to Tennessee-Martin (1-4, 0-2) that saw the Skyhawks snap a 43-game conference losing streak.
Tennessee Tech quarterback Robert Craft threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns to lead an Eagles' offense that amassed 584 total yards. Craft broke the school's career passing record; he now has 4,715 yards.
The ninth OVC team, Tennessee State suffered a 30-13 nonconference loss to South Carolina State in Indianapolis.
Tennessee State (3-2, 1-0) struggled offensively, compiling just two first downs until a late fourth-quarter scoring drive. Star tailback Charles Anthony, the nation's leading rusher, gained just 51 yards on 18 carries as his streak of nine straight 100-yard rushing efforts ended.
Three OVC games are on tap this week, the most intriguing being Eastern Kentucky's home matchup with Eastern Illinois. Also, Jacksonville State visits Tennessee-Martin and Samford travels to Murray State.
In a non-league contest, Tennessee Tech hosts Chattanooga. Southeast and Tennessee State both have open dates.
While Eastern Kentucky's Hudson won the OVC's offensive player of the week award, Tennessee State safety Jamar Landrom earned defensive honors after having 18 tackles, forcing two fumbles and recovering one fumble in the loss to South Carolina State.
Eastern Illinois quarterback Matt Schabert was the league's newcomer of the week after passing for 315 yards and having 371 yards of total offense against Southeast.
Four OVC teams are averaging over 400 yards of total offense per game to rank among the nation's top 25 in I-AA. Eastern Illinois leads the league and ranks seventh nationally with 447.2 yards per game, followed by No. 21 Samford (411.2), No. 23 Murray State (409.2) and No. 24 Jacksonville State (409.0).