The Colonels were well-aware of the importance of match-up with No. 25 Austin Peay last Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium.
That's way the result was so painful.
EKU (5-4, 3-2 OVC) rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to force overtime, but the Governors recovered and came up with a 28-21 victory.
“It’s crushing,” EKU senior running back Daryl McCleskey said. “We put in our all and to not get the outcome that we wanted was tough. The ball didn't bounce our way. It’s definitely going to make us a tougher and stronger team.”
That loss will make it tougher for the Colonels to win an Ohio Valley Conference championship or get an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs.
EKU fell to fourth place in the league standings with three games left on the schedule.
The Colonels have already lost to two of three teams they are chasing — UT-Martin (5-1) and Austin Peay (4-2) — and play the other team this weekend — SEMO (4-1).
“When it comes down to a play or two and we come up short, it’s gut-wrenching,” EKU coach Elder said.
It was a game of mistakes and turnovers for both teams.
EKU quarterback Parker McKinney threw three interceptions and the Colonels committed nine penalties for 80 yards.
“We have to protect the football better,” EKU coach Mark Elder said. “I think that was a key component of things. We lost the turnover battle by two. It’s hard to win any games when you lose the turnover battle.”
EKU came out of the gates hot.
McCleskey scored from 12 yards outs, just 1:21 into the OVC matchup.
McCleskey would lead the Colonels with 150 rushing yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.
“Daryl had a great day. Down the stretch in the second half we were trying to feed him the football. He was playing really well. Our offensive line did a good job making some holes for him,” Elder said.
Austin Peay (6-3, 4-1) took their first lead in the third quarter after Ahmaad Tanner rushed into the end zone from one yard out, making the score 14-10.
The Governors extend their lead to 21-10 in the fourth quarter, but EKU fought back to bring the game within three after McCleskey rushed for a 9- yard touchdown and Keyion Dixon passed to McKinney for the two point conversion.
“That was huge because we were down 11 and it was a clear go for two,” Elder said.
The Colonels tied it up at 21 after Sam Hayworth connected with a 28-yard field goal in the fourth.
“To come back, it showed our endless fight,” McCleskey said. “We never gave up even when everything was going against us. We fought back into the game and almost won. I love that about our team, they never gave up.”
In overtime, Austin Peay’s JaVaughn Craig connected with Kentel Williams for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play.
McKinney would finish with 111 yards on 16-of-31 passing attempts, three interceptions and one sack.
Coming into the contest, Austin Peay ranked sixth in the country and first in the OVC in rush defense, allowing only 84 yards per game. EKU rushed for 70 yards in the first quarter and finished with 192 yards on the ground.
The EKU defense shut down Austin Peay’s running backs only allowing 63 yards.
EKU will travel to No. 18 Southeast Missouri State next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. in Cape Girardeau.