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After a wild out-of-conference schedule for Jacksonville State, head coach Bill Clark hosted his first OVC game against up-and-comer Murray State. Last year’s matchup was a 38-35 win for JSU, and history said the Gamecocks would win again. Unfortunately for Jax State, the Racers skipped their History 101 classes and gave coach Clark’s new staff a rude welcome to the Ohio Valley Conference.
Murray State took control of the game early, opening the game with a 40-yard Jordan Brenton field goal and a touchdown pass from Maikhail Miller to standout receiver Walter Powell. The Gamecock defense played aggressively in the first half, and offensive guru Chris Hatcher made the right call to go to the big guy over the middle to get the first touchdown of the game.
Both teams traded field goals early in the second quarter, and the Gamecocks finally found the end zone on a short run by sophomore Miles Jones. While Troymaine Pope did get a few carries in the game, Jones is still the backup for James since Pope is nursing an injury. Racer running back Duane Brady would answer with a touchdown run as well later in the quarter with under two minutes remaining. JSU quarterback Max Shortell got into a rhythm on the ensuing drive to get the Gamecocks in scoring position. With only seconds remaining, Shortell connected with Josh Barge, who made a great run after the catch only to fumble on the one yard line. This was the story of the game: missed opportunities and mental errors. Going into halftime, the score was surprisingly 20-10 Murray State.
The 3rd quarter was dominated by Jax State, who racked up fourteen points on two DaMarcus James runs. Offensive Coordinator John Grass used his heavy Wildcat package on a 4th and short play that setup the second touchdown of the 3rd. The defense made adjustments to contain the explosive Murray State running game. With four fingers held high, the Gamecocks were up 24-20.
A wild 4th quarter was a tail of two quarterbacks: Shortell threw two picks and Miller took over the game. Miller trotted into the end zone to give the Racers a 27-24 lead with the game coming to a close. The Gamecocks marched down the field with three minutes remaining to set up a Griffin Thomas field goal to force overtime.
In overtime, it only took the Gamecocks two plays to score a touchdown. The Gamecocks defense played well, forcing a 4th down on the twenty yard line only to have the Racers convert. Murray State would again convert a 4th down conversion inside the five to setup a quarterback sneak by Miller, but Miller was not done with this drive. After both teams traded timeouts before the PAT, Coach Hatcher called in a play to win the game on a two-point conversion. Miller rolled out of the pocket to hit Jeremy Harness wide open in the flats to win the game.
Murray State quarterback Maikhail Miller was a force to be reckoned with, running for 134 and passing for 109. His three touchdowns kept the game close and the threat of his legs kept the Gamecocks on their heels. Berry and Brady chimed in as well, created a three-headed rushing attack that gashed Jacksonville State for 296 yards.
The Racers’ defensive woes continue as an inconsistent JSU offense racked up 650 yards. By the 4th quarter, it looked like the Gamecocks were playing against cheerleaders. The Racers will need to improve as the season continues if they want a shot at the conference title.
It appears the Gamecocks have finally selected a quarterback. Max Shortell was productive in the passing game, completing 22 passes for 285 yards. However, three second half interceptions led to many missed opportunities. Shortell commented, “We’ve got to learn to put teams away and score touchdowns.” So far, that has been JSU’s biggest problem.
Markis Merrill is turning into a special receiver for Jacksonville State. After losing Alan Bonner to the draft last year, many thought the receiving corps would be devoid of playmakers. Merrill made some great catches early in the game to move the chains, but he dropped a touchdown pass in his chest in the 3rd quarter. This catch alone would have won game for Jax State.
The Racers running game could be the x-factor they needed to be a contender. While the defense needs to improve, Chris Hatcher can simply outscore many opponents. Next week, Murray State hosts Tennessee Tech in hopes of going 2-0 in OVC play.
This is arguably the biggest week of coaching for Bill Clark. After an FCS record three straight overtime games and a heartbreaking OVC opener, can the young Gamecocks go on the road and beat a tough UT Martin team?