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How Austin Peay football survived furious North Alabama comeback to win on homecoming

Austin Peay football returned to the friendly confines of Fortera Stadium for homecoming, but didn’t quite return to normalcy.

One week after a wild, 48-45 double-overtime win at Southern Utah in which they rallied from a 21-point third-quarter deficit, the 20th-ranked Governors (6-2, 3-0 United Athletic Conference) almost fell victim to a furious comeback themselves but hung on to beat North Alabama 49-39 on Saturday.

APSU is now on a six-game winning streak, its longest since 2019. The Govs remain atop the UAC heading into next Saturday’s game at Eastern Kentucky.

Offensive hot streak continues

Since scoring just 36 points combined in losses to Southern Illinois and Tennessee to begin the season, the Govs have averaged 45.8 points and gone over 40 points in five of six games.

APSU coach Scotty Walden saw signs of a breakthrough late against the Salukis. The Govs scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter thanks to a handful of what Walden called "explosive plays." They had another one of those against the Vols when Mike DiLiello found Trey Goodman on a 52-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

"Since that play with Trey Goodman against the University of Tennessee in front of 102,000 people, that’s led to the belief of, 'Hey, we can score against anybody,' " Walden said.

DiLiello, who already broke the school record for passing yards in one game with 441 in a Sept. 16 win over East Tennessee State, tied the program’s single-game record for touchdown passes with six against North Alabama (3-6, 1-4). The graduate transfer threw for 353 yards on 20-of-25 passing. Six Govs — Goodman, Tre Shackleford, Brenen Hawkins, Jevon Jackson, Khatib Lyles and Jordan Goco — caught touchdowns from DiLiello.

"It all starts with No. 12," Walden said of DiLiello. "The things you see on game day are about 3 percent of what we does. ... We've got the best quarterback in this league."

Jackson paced Austin Peay’s ground game with 160 yards on 30 carries.

Flying start for APSU

On his very first pass Saturday, DiLiello lofted a deep ball down the sideline for Goodman, who took it 91 yards for a touchdown.

The Governors didn’t slow down from there. They kicked a field goal on their next possession and found the end zone on each of their next four drives, taking a 39-12 lead with 7:57 to go until halftime.

DiLiello believes Saturday's fast start is evidence that Austin Peay's offense can get even better, noting that the Govs have had plenty of fast starts followed by periodic lulls.

"We’re putting up 40 points in a half, 28 points in a quarter," DiLiello said. "If we put that full game together, it's going to be another gear for sure."

MORE: Inside Mike DiLiello's record-setting, 441-yard performance for Austin Peay football

North Alabama threatens after halftime

While the Govs consistently slowed North Alabama’s run game (2.4 yards per carry), UNA quarterback Noah Walters threw for 353 yards, many of those coming after the catch as APSU struggled to tackle Lion receivers.

After punting on its first two drives of the second half, North Alabama scored on three straight possessions, coming within a touchdown on Walters’ fourth-down pass to Kobe Warden with 7:37 to play.

On the Govs’ ensuing drive, they ate six minutes off the clock before Maddux Trujillo made a 45-yard field goal with 1:11 left, all but sealing the victory.

"Second half, we didn’t play to our standard," Walden said. "But I told our guys a couple weeks ago, it’s hard to win a college football game. ... At halftime, we said the same thing we said at Southern Utah: it’s 0-0. Credit to North Alabama for fighting back.”

Jacob Shames can be reached by email at jshames@gannett.com and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: Austin Peay football survives North Alabama in UAC showdown