JSU coach Bill Clark has a deep bag of tricks at his disposal and, as most of the Gamecocks’ opponents have seen this season, he’s not afraid to dig into it.
The Gamecocks (5-1, 1-1 Ohio Valley Conference) used one to beat UT-Martin. They also have used them against Alabama State, North Alabama. and Murray State.
“That’s one of the things we started years ago, going back to our Prattville days,” Clark said Sunday. “You’re going to get what you practice, and one of the things we really believe is the evolution of the so-called trick play. They’re becoming more normal, and that’s because more people are using them."
You can’t argue with the results.
The flea-flicker Saturday went for a 36-yard touchdown to Spencer Goffigan and returned the momentum to the Gamecocks. Backup quarterback Kyle West completed a 31-yard pass to Robert Gray on a fake punt that kept a touchdown drive alive against Murray State. Troymaine Pope threw a 53-yard halfback pass to Markis Merrill for the game’s first touchdown against North Alabama.
And even when the Gamecocks were turned back, the play worked. Receiver Telvin Brown had a 30-yard completion to Josh Barge on a reverse pass in the first quarter of the opener at Alabama State called back because of a penalty.
The number of trick plays in JSU’s playbook is a state secret, but Clark said “it’s more than people would think.”
Two dozen wouldn’t be an unreasonable estimate. That would be enough to average two a week, but the Gamecocks practice all of them.
They worked on the flea-flicker that ruined the Skyhawks’ homecoming at least once every day during the practice week.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a predominant part (of the playbook), but it’s enough to have a different wrinkle or two each week and people don’t see the same one,” Clark said. “You don’t want to repeat too many of them because that’s the one everyone’s going to work on.
“At the same time, it’s a lot of what we see (opponents) doing and what fits how they’re playing defensively.”
The flea-flicker worked because UT-Martin had a safety who liked to play up in the box and bite on the play-action.
Quarterback Max Shortell handed the ball to DaMarcus James going up the middle, James turned and flipped it back, and Shortell hit a wide-open Goffigan for one of the easiest first career touchdown catches in JSU history. It gave the Gamecocks a 17-10 lead.
“It was a great experience,” Goffigan said. “My coaches had a lot of faith in me. (Tight ends coach Jody Wright) told me to visualize making the play over and over.
“I just had to stay calm, stay in the moment and focus.”
Offensive coordinator John Grass said after the game it had been a while since he called the flea-flicker. The coaches talk over the game’s potential plays before kickoff and the most crucial calls during the game fall upon the head coach, but Grass doesn’t have to look over his shoulder when it comes time to dip into the bag of tricks.
“I want him to have the freedom when he feels it’s right to call it in the game,” Clark said.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.