Few games in the history of Austin Peay football have been bigger than the Governors’ regular-season finale against Central Arkansas.
The Governors (8-2, 5-0 United Athletic Conference) host the Bears (7-3, 4-1) Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN+) at Fortera Stadium, with the winner receiving an automatic berth in the FCS Playoffs. It would be the second time in history that APSU has reached the playoffs. The first was in 2019.
Here’s what to watch for as the Govs attempt to seal their playoff fate:
Austin Peay’s offense can score in many ways
Only one quarterback in FCS has thrown for more yards this season than APSU’s Mike DiLiello, who has made the most of his sixth and final season of college football. DiLiello, who previously played at Florida Tech and Middle Tennessee State, has thrown for 2,868 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 67.2% of his passes.
It only helps that DiLiello has three of the top eight receivers in the UAC — Tre Shackelford, Trey Goodman and Kam Thomas. Together, the trio has combined for 128 receptions, 2,055 yards and 17 scores. And if the Govs’ aerial attack has an off-day, they can simply lean on Jevon Jackson (1,119 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), the sixth-leading rusher in FCS.
Austin Peay scores 37.4 points and gains 457.7 yards per game. Both averages are the sixth-highest in FCS and lead the conference as well. During the Govs’ eight-game winning streak, those averages have jumped to 42.3 and 498.1 per game.
Pair of linebackers leading Governor defense
While Austin Peay is just fourth in the UAC in total defense and fifth in points allowed, it might have the conference’s best linebacking corps.
Sam Howard, who came into the season having just 15 career stops in three seasons, has made 80 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Howard is fifth in the conference in tackles, while teammate Tyler Long (92 tackles) is second. Long is in his first season with the Govs after transferring from Norfolk State.
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Central Arkansas is talented and battle-tested
Central Arkansas played well in a 27-13 loss to Oklahoma State to open its season on Sept. 2. Two weeks later, the Bears traveled to North Dakota State and lost 49-31 to the nine-time FCS national champion Bison. Since then, UCA has gone 6-1.
The Bears are second in the UAC in scoring (33.4 points per game). Offensively, they’re led by running back ShunDerrick Powell (129 carries, 1,001 yards) and the efficient passing of Will McElvain (23 touchdowns to four interceptions).
Defense is also a strength for Central Arkansas, which allows fewer points and yards on average than any other team in the conference. Defensive end David Walker was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, presented to the FCS’s top defensive player, in 2022 and is in contention for the award again with 54 tackles, 18.0 TFLs and eight sacks this season.
Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas score prediction
Austin Peay 38, Central Arkansas 31: The Govs leave nothing to chance, wrapping up an outright conference championship and playoff spot behind a big day from DiLiello and timely plays on defense.
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.