Austin Peay football receives FCS playoff berth: See the Govs react
Austin Peay football held a watch party at F&M Bank Arena Sunday morning to watch the reveal of the FCS playoff bracket.
Saturday night, Jau’Von Young slept “like a baby.”
Compare that to the night before the FCS playoffs selection show in November 2022. Young and his Austin Peay football teammates couldn’t rest much. They were aware they were on the bubble. Their season was hanging by a thread, and it was cruelly cut when the Governors were left out of the 24-team bracket.
Last season’s snub was the fire that fueled this season’s Govs, coach Scotty Walden said. In the past three months, that fire grew to nine straight wins, an outright United Athletic Conference championship and a 14-12 victory over Central Arkansas on Saturday, which assured Austin Peay a place the FCS playoffs.
Sunday morning, there was no committee standing in Austin Peay’s way. Just an enthusiastic, festive crowd that filed into F&M Bank Arena and watched as ESPNU aired the selection show and announced the Govs’ first-round opponent. APSU (9-2) will host Chattanooga (7-4) on Nov. 25 (2 p.m. CT, ESPN+) at Fortera Stadium.
“Last year … that motivated us,” said Walden, his voice still hoarse from Saturday’s game and raucous celebration that followed. “I just love seeing the joy on our guy’s faces when our name got called.”
Few players on Austin Peay’s roster have experienced that joy before. Young is an exception. A fifth-year defensive lineman, he and Bryce Robinson are the only two players remaining from 2019 when the Governors reached the playoffs for the first time. Robinson redshirted and did not play in the playoffs, while Young appeared in wins over Furman and Sacramento State.
“It’s surreal,” Young said. “Because we still fight for the same thing, which is national respect.”
Respect — or a lack thereof — played a role in keeping APSU out of the 2022 playoffs, in Walden’s opinion. Maybe it would have in 2023, but the Govs didn’t give it a chance to, winning the UAC’s automatic bid. That’s how they got in four years ago as well, claiming the Ohio Valley Conference championship before reaching the quarterfinals.
Young stuck with the Governors in 2020 when coach Mark Hudspeth resigned and Walden arrived from Southern Miss. In Young’s words, it was about finishing what he had started. He connected with Walden and the new coaching staff he brought with him. It was their “energy” that sold Young on a future in which APSU didn’t lose any bit of its momentum from 2019.
From 2013-16, the Governors won just one game. Since 2017, they’ve won 50 games, more than all but nine other teams in the FCS. They’ve won or shared three conference titles and been ranked in one of the national polls on 30 occasions, compared to just twice previously.
Gaining national recognition has been an uphill battle. But it’s in Clarksville where Young feels the most significant progress has been made. Saturday, Fortera Stadium had an attendance of 9,931, its second-largest crowd in its nearly eight-decade history.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is just the involvement from the fans,” Young said. “This organization, this school has a lot of community support. People here are really behind what we’re doing, what we’re trying to build. Everybody getting behind us and pushing, that makes us go harder.”
Walden hasn’t lost the chip on his shoulder. Sunday, he was disappointed that Austin Peay didn’t receive a national seed and first-round bye.
“Those top eight seeds, those are powers,” Walden said. “You got to be dang near perfect if you’re an outsider, quote-unquote, to get in there.”
That’s a level that Austin Peay hasn’t quite reached yet. For the time being, the Governors are still “outsiders,” and the very nature of that label means that shedding it isn’t up to them.
But maybe there’s an advantage to it. APSU’s breakthrough season in 2019 was followed by a three-year postseason absence. As a program, the Govs aren’t at the point where they can take making the playoffs for granted. Young knows that as well as anyone.
“You never know when the last snap will be,” Young said. “You don’t get too many of these chances. … This isn’t something that’s gonna come around often.”
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.