#9 Jacksonville State dominated early but had to make some big defensive stops late to beat #13 Chattanooga. The JSU defense had its best performance since joining D-I football, holding the Mocs to 111 total yards.
Gamecocks quarterback Eli Jenkins scored the game-winning touchdown on a 13-yard scamper to silence the Finely Stadium crowd who dubbed the rivalry game a “white out”. Jenkins completed 13 of 22 passes for 122 yards and rushed for 82 yards. Running back DaMarcus James rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown. Jenkins and defensive linemen Devaunte Sigler earned OVC honors for their efforts in the victory.
Chattanooga’s only touchdowns came off interceptions returned for touchdowns by Dee Virgin and Lucas Webb. One interception came off Jenkins, and another was a spectacular pick off JSU quarterback Max Shortell.
Jacksonville State appeared ready to blowout the Mocs in the first half. The stable of Gamecock running backs racked up over two hundred yards early, and the defense held UTC to -5 yards for the entire half without a first down.
Somehow, Chattanooga was only down 17-14 entering the locker rooms at halftime despite being out gained by 260 yards on offense.
The Gamecocks never seemed to put the game away in the second half. “I got a little conservative calling plays after those two interceptions in the first half,” JSU Coach John Grass said. “We kept the ball on the ground the whole second half, didn’t want to take any chances, and just let our defense win the football game.”
The majority of passes Jenkins threw were quick hitches and screens. The few deep balls thrown were either on the run or picked off.
As the field position battle continued late in the game, Chattanooga got a little help from the refs. The SoCon officials claimed the UTC punt returner called a fair catch during this play:
Unless the return man threw his arm up right after the kick, it appears Troymaine Pope made a clean hit to force the fumble and give the Mocs a long field to try to tie the game. Instead, the refs called three penalties: one for kick catch interference and two personal fouls for subsequent JSU protests.
The Mocs took advantage of the drastic change in field position to tie the game and force overtime. In the extra frame, they threatened to finally score an offensive touchdown, but the Jacksonville State defense stepped up to keep them out.
Sticking to his conservative game plan, Coach Grass called three runs once JSU got the ball. The final rush by Jenkins put the Mocs away for good. The thousands of Gamecock fans who traveled erupted in a flurry of joy as the Marching Southerners began to play.
Jacksonville State’s dodging of disaster against Chattanooga had a similar feel to last year’s road game versus Alabama State. In both games, Coach Grass called plays conservatively and trusted his defense. Both games were decided late thanks to big defensive plays and a strong running game. Maybe the Gamecocks are more of a defensive team then we first thought.
The Gamecocks have a bye week in preparation to host D-II and former Gulf South Conference rival West Alabama on September 20th.
Highlights courtesy of the Jacksonville State video team. Seriously, they do an awesome job.