On the red field of Eastern Washington, the Eagles outlasted the Gamecocks for a 35-24 victory to advance to the FCS Semifinals. It was offense, offense and offense as the two teams have combined for 1,073 yards in the game. Two red zone turnovers by the third ranked Eagles have kept them off the board on two drives allowing Jacksonville State to be tied 21-21 at the half. However a knee injury to JSU’s quarterback and a red zone turnover in the fourth quarter broke the Gamecocks’ back as a pick-six ended their hopes.
Freshman quarterback Eli Jenkins has played tremendous in the first half throwing for 127 yards and adding 118 yards on the ground. The Eagles game plan of stopping the ground attack of DaMarcus James and Troymaine Pope has been efficient holding the two to just 95 yards. Jenkins went down late in the second quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return forcing Max Shortell into the game. Without Jenkins on the field, the Eagles offense focused on shutting down the Gamecock running game knowing redshirt junior wasn’t mobile. Shortell in his relief appearance was 12 of 22 for 173 yards with two interceptions.
For Eastern Washington, the Eagles offense has made it into Gamecock territory on every drive thus far. Quarterback and Walter Payton Finalist Vernon Adams put on a show, completing 18 of 29 pass for 324 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Adams favorite target has been senior wide receiver Ashton Clark who had 11 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. On the ground it was Quincy Forte who gave the Gamecock rush defense fits in the second half gaining 190 yards and two touchdowns.
The victory for Eastern Washington means the Eagles will host No. 7 Towson who eliminated No. 2 Eastern Illinois Friday night. Jacksonville State concludes Bill Clark’s first season at 11-4.
The game opened with a quick three and out by the Gamecocks and were forced to punt out of their own endzone. The Eagles offense took to the field on the JSU side of the ball and used the ground game to get inside the Gamecock five-yard line. Looking for the game’s first points, running back Quincy Forte was stripped by linebacker Harris Gaston on the goal line for the game’s first turnover. Off of the turnover, Jacksonville State’s offense got in to a rhythm converting on third down with runs by Jenkins and James. The offense was stopped at the Eagles 20-yard line and kicker Griffin Thomas missed a 37-yard field goal.
Off of the missed field goal, the Eagles offense drove the field once again and ended with the game’s first points as Adams connected with freshman receiver Cooper Kupp for a 29-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0. Jacksonville State answered the Eagles drive converting on third down three times including the on the touchdown. Facing third and goal, JSU called the trick play that ended with wide receiver Telvin Brown throwing to tight end Gavin Ellis for the three-yard touchdown.
The second quarter opened like it did for in the first for Eastern Washington as the Eagles had another red zone turnover. Adams’ pass to the end zone was intercept by line backer Robert Gray in the end zone giving the Gamecocks offense the ball back. Off of another red zone turnover, the Gamecocks turned to the air resulting in Jenkins finding tight end Anthony Johnson for the 10-yard touchdown giving the Gamecocks the 14-7 lead.
The lead wouldn’t last long for the Gamecocks as two 29-yard completions by Adams get the Eagles into the red zone once again. Unlike the first two trips, Eastern Washington powered it in as Forte scored the thee-yard touchdown to tie the game midway through the second quarter.
The impressive offense display continued as Jenkins went QB draw on 3rd and six for a gain of 45 yards to get the Gamecocks into the Eagles red zone. Inside the Eagles ten-yard line, the Gamecocks went with wildcat with James powering in for the one-yard touchdown. Eagles answered quickly once again as Adams went deep to Clark for a 41-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21.
The second half began with which defense could get a stop. Eastern Washington’s first drive of the second half began on the ground with Forte who followed up a 36-yard run with a seven-yard touchdown to retake the lead over Jacksonville State. With Shortell in for the injured Jenkins, the Gamecocks changed to a passing attack. Jacksonville State’s first drive ended with a 27-yard field goal by Thomas to trim the deficit to 28-24.
Jacksonville State defense came up with huge on the ensuing drive. After a fourth down conversion by Eastern Washington, Adams threw his second interception as Pierre Warren forced their third turnover of the game. However the Gamecocks could not take advantage as the Eagles defense came up with another three and out.
After trading three and outs for the rest of the third quarter, Eastern Washington found the end zone early in the fourth quarter but on the defensive side of the ball. After getting a fourth down sack, the Gamecocks looked like they were going to take the lead by Shortell was intercepted by Eagles freshman linebacker Albert Havili and took it back 77-yards for the touchdown. Jacksonville State looked to rebound driving inside the EWU 25 but turned it over on fourth down ending their chances for the victory.