After a long journey to Louisiana, Jacksonville State dominated the first half with a tenacious defense. DaMarcus James scored two touchdowns, and Eli Jenkins threw a touchdown to Josh Barge to enter the locker room with a three possession lead over the #6 team in the country.
McNeese State started the game by running the ball to open the passing game. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, a dropped pass and botched snap led to a crucial third down on the first drive of the ball game. On 3rd down, Cowboys QB Cody Stroud felt pressure and threw an interception to JSU linebacker Ketrick Wolfe on the McNeese State 20 yard line. On the ensuing play, the Gamecocks dialed up a big play action pass from Jenkins to Barge in the corner of the end zone for an early lead.
For the remainder of the first quarter, McNeese State moved the chains with the running game, but sacks would keep the Cowboys out of the end zone. Nose tackle Caleb Lawrence got great pressure on Stroud even with two blockers against him. The pressure kept McNeese State’s offense in check and led to four sacks in the first quarter for JSU. Linebacker Ben Endress blocked a McNeese State punt, but the Cowboys recovers. The result of an excellently played first quarter was only a touchdown lead.
To start the second quarter, Jenkins hit receiver Telvin Brown deep to setup a James touchdown. The JSU defense continued to stuff the McNeese State offense and created the opportunity for an big Gamecocks cushion going into halftime. Unfortunately, James fumbled the ball in the red zone and prevented what could have been a three touchdown lead.
After James’ fumble, the Jacksonville State defense answered with another sack by Lawrence to force a three and out. A nice punt by Cowboys punter Ken Breaux flipped the field, and a good stop by the McNeese State could have set up a Cowboys score. However, the Gamecocks defense stepped up against as safety Pierre Warren intercepted a Cody Stroud pass. Jenkins ran the zone read on the next play to set up another touchdown run by James. The Gamecocks would enter the locker room with a 21-0 lead. The defense held the Southland’s highest scoring offense in history to zero points, three turnovers, and eight sacks.
The third quarter was a slow one as teams traded punts until late in the quarter. Griffin Thomas kicked his OVC record 23rd field goal of the year to give the Gamecocks a 24-0 lead. With a few minutes remaining, McNeese State pieced together a drive the resulted in a field goal to put the Cowboys on the board.
McNeese State finally reached the end zone with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. Cody Stroud threw a touchdown pass to Ernest Celestie and put the Cowboys in position to comeback with a 24-10 score. The Gamecocks countered by giving the ball to James multiple times to score his third touchdown on the night and run six minutes off the clock. On the drive, James set the Jacksonville State single-season rushing record with 1,428 yards. The Cowboys drove down the field again to keep their hopes alive, but safety Robert Gray forced a Stroud fumble in the red zone to secure the win.
The Gamecocks’ defense was suffocating against the Cowboys tonight. Cody Stroud was on the ground long enough to major in agriculture, and the McNeese State receivers rarely got open. JSU had a record eleven sacks. The Cowboys managed only 75 yards for the night with negative yards in the rushing department. The three turnovers came at critical times and JSU scored 14 points off them. Holding such a good offense to only ten points is an incredible turnaround from previous years.
James and the rest of the backs had another solid night. James’ record-breaking night propelled the offense to an early lead and kept the Cowboys’ offense off the field late in the game. A back like James is invaluable at this point in the season and will be key to victory next week. Jenkins threw the ball well and did enough off play action to keep the McNeese State secondary out of the box.
Jacksonville State is one of the hottest teams in the tournament with two blowout wins against highly-ranked competition. Next week’s road trip to the West Coast will be difficult, but with the defense playing its best ball of the year, you cannot count the Gamecocks out of any game.
Jacksonville State will face off against Payton Award finalist QB Vernon Adams and #3 Eastern Washington next Saturday in Cheney, WA. The game will air on ESPN 3. As always, OVC Ball will feature in-depth coverage of JSU’s next step in their remarkable playoff run.