The 16th-ranked Murray State football team could not complete a late rally and fell to No. 10 Jacksonville State, 28-14, at Roy Stewart Stadium in Murray on Sunday in a game that decided the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference championship.
The Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter on a pair of rushes from quarterback Zion Webb. However, late in the stanza, MSU quarterback Preston Rice got his team on the board with a quick four-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard strike to DeQuan Dallas for the touchdown with 24 seconds left in the first quarter.
However, JSU answered with two more scores on a 1-yard run from Josh Samuel in the second quarter and an 18-yard pass from Webb to Trae Berry in the third. Down 28-7, the Racers ended an over 30-minute scoreless drought in the fourth quarter on a nine play, 88-yard drive by Preston Rice when he tagged Jacob Bell from 13 yards out for the touchdown.
The Racer defense held the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter and did not allow JSU in the end zone in the final third of the game. The Racers had two more tries offensively in the fourth, but neither ended with scores. The first of the two drives stalled out on fourth down at the Jacksonville State 7-yard line with 2:46 remaining, while the second ended in an interception at the Gamecock 24-yard line with 52 seconds left to seal the JSU win.
Rice had a season-best passing performance Sunday going 27-for-47 for 347 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. LaMartez Brooks led the Racer receiving corps with eight catches for 95 yards, while Bell and Dallas tallied 94 and 86 yards, respectively, with one touchdown each. Defensively, Eric Samuta and Marcis Floyd led the Racer defense with 12 and eight tackles, respectively, as well as one tackle-for-loss.
With a 5-2 record, the Racers must now wait until next Sunday to see if they receive one of six at-large bids to the 2020 NCAA FCS Championship. The 2020 NCAA FCS Championship selection show will air Sunday, April 18, on ESPNU and WatchESPN at 10:30 a.m., with the playoffs beginning on April 24.
The 5-2 record also marks a tremendous turnaround for the Racers, as they had not previously won five OVC games since the 2011 season.
Murray State began the season at 5-0 and reached as high 13th in the national rankings.
In the latest Stats Perform FCS Top 25 poll, released Monday, Jacksonville State (9-2) is ranked No. 9 while Murray State is No. 20.