JSU notebook: Gamecocks keep OT streak alive
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Sep 15, 2013 | 2480 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — As nerve-wracking as it can be, Jacksonville State actually likes working overtime.

At least that’s what the record says.

When the Gamecocks beat Division II North Alabama 24-21 in double overtime Saturday night, it was their fifth straight overtime win — after losing their first four — and their 17th win in the final 2:00 since the 1993 season.

The overtime streak started against Tennessee Tech in 2006 and includes the double-overtime upset of Ole Miss and Georgia State in 2010 and last year’s win over No. 17 Tennessee State.

“I don’t think any of us were really nervous,” linebacker Rashad Smith said. “I actually like games like this. I don’t like blowout games. I like backs-to-the-wall kind of games. I mean, it’s exciting and fun. You actually get to test your skills.

Falling off

Not that leading the country in a statistical category is high on JSU’s priority list — especially this early in the season — but with a running game even half of what it produced the week before, it might have been leading the country in rushing this week.

The Gamecocks entered the game ranked third in the FCS in rushing offense, behind Youngstown State and Portland State (by one yard). But with only 159 yards Saturday night are likely to slip to at least fifth when the statistics are compiled and released today.

They did pass national leader Youngstown State, which had only 51 yards rushing against Michigan State, but should be getting passed by Sam Houston State, Sacred Heart and UT Chattanooga – all of whom were behind them entering the game.

Quarterback Eli Jenkins was their leading rusher with 78 yards.

Holding the line

One of the biggest elements of JSU’s record-breaking rushing game last week against Jacksonville University was the clean play of its offense.

The Gamecocks had only two penalties in the game, and none were called on the offense. That meant in a 500-yard plus rushing effort there were no false starts and definitely no holding penalties.

It wasn’t so clean against UNA. The Gamecocks were flagged for four holding calls in the first half.

For the game they were hit with 17 of the game’s 32 penalties. The Gamecocks were docked 159 yards in penalty yardage, while UNA has penalized 81 yards.

“It seemed like every drive had some kind of penalty,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “I think that’s why I’m so frustrated, even with a win.

“You go from hardly any penalties to all these penalties. It’s something we’ll look at. But we survived it.”

Big foot

When Griffin Thomas stepped into the JSU record books when he kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal in the first quarter Saturday night. But he was far from being done.

He kicked five in the game.

The 50-yarder was the longest field goal of Thomas’ career and the fifth field goal of 50 yards or more in JSU history.

Steven Lee kicked the three longest field goals in JSU history — a 52-yarder and two 51-yarders, all in 2003 — and Ray Vollenweider hit a 50-yarder against Troy in 1981.

Thomas attempted another 50-yarder later in the quarter that was partially blocked.

On the mend

The game — and the week leading up to it — took a lot out of the Gamecocks.

They didn’t have quarterback Max Shortell at all, although the Minnesota transfer did warm up prior to the game. They lost Damarcus James to a tweaked ankle early in the game and Troymaine Pope, the architect of the Gamecocks’ early touchdown, was sidelined late after being slammed to the ground.

“We did not have Max available tonight,” Clark said. “We thought we might get him back by the end of the week, tweaked himself a little bit and never could get well. It was a game-time decision with him. We wanted to see him come out there and warm up. We’d have still started with Eli (Jenkins) butwe would’ve had Max available if we think he should go. It probably limited us a little bit.”

Perhaps the scariest was the over-the-middle hit Markis Merrill took shortly after he caught Pope’s touchdown pass.

Clark said after the game he never got a report on Merrill’s condition other than the player wasn’t going to be brought back in, but was hoping “it was his wind knocked out.”

Clark said he wasn’t sure if the play fell under the new targeting rule implemented in the college game this year.

“That was questionable to me, but I couldn’t tell because it was such a quick thing,” Clark said. “I didn’t think it was to the head, thank God for that.”

Recruiting news

The Gamecocks picked up the first offensive line commitment of their 2014 signing class when Mobile Christian center Jordan Cagle pulled the trigger before last week’s home opener against Jacksonville.

Cagle, 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, chose the Gamecocks over offers from Akron, Middle Tennessee, Indiana State and Presbyterian. He also was talking to Arkansas State.

“I like the coaches and the staff and think they play a very high caliber of football whenever I go up there and watch a game,” Cagle said. “It was one of the closer options I had. That was a draw.”

Although considered one of the top centers in the state, Cagle said he’s been told he’d have a chance to play “any position they need me to play” up front.

“I want to come in and hopefully start as a freshman,” he said. “If not, I’ll work hard as a redshirt and get an opportunity to start as a sophomore.”

The Gamecocks also are said to have verbal commitments from Louisville, Miss., quarterback Wyatt Roberts; Sweetwater athlete Jakoby Aldridge and Walker linebacker Austin Mansell.

Up next

The Gamecocks complete the one-of-everything rotation on their non-conference schedule when they travel to Georgia State, now an FBS team in the Sun Belt Conference.

When that game ends, they will have played an FCS team, a non-scholarship Division I team, a Division II team and an FBS team. From there, it’s OVC games all the way to a possible playoff berth.

JSU is 2-0 against the Panthers all-time.

If JSU wins the game, they will be 4-0 for the first time since 2010.
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