Multiply it by a hundred. No, a thousand. No, a million.
Mere minutes away from taking back a commanding position in the conference race, the Gamecocks blew a 24-point lead in the final 7 1/2 minutes Saturday and lost to Eastern Kentucky 52-48 in their final regular-season game of the year at JSU Stadium.
The players were physically stunned at what transpired in the last eight minutes. Those who could find words to describe what happened summed it up one way.
“A disaster, a total disaster,” junior receiver Allan Bonner said. “We let up. They kept fighting.”
It was the second year in a row the Colonels took away a chance for the Gamecocks to be No. 1 at something. Last year, it was No. 1 in the country. On Saturday, it was the lead in the conference race.
What happened was painfully reminiscent of their game last year at Tennessee Tech in which the Gamecock blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead by giving up 28 points in the final 11:33.
On Saturday, the Colonels (6-3, 5-1 OVC) scored 28 points in a six-minute stretch after Washaun Ealey’s 83-yard touchdown run gave the No. 18 Gamecocks (5-4, 4-2) a seemingly safe 48-24 lead with 7:25 to play.
“This 28 points in the fourth quarter is almost an unbelievable scenario,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said.
But there are better FCS comebacks in the NCAA record book. Nevada (35), Morehead State (32) and Montana State (31) all overcame bigger second-half deficits. Delaware (in 1990) and Georgia Southern (in 2008) both rallied from 28 points down in the fourth quarter to win games. The 28 points in the fourth quarter to win — the same Tech scored last year — are dwarfed by at least Montana (39) and Missouri State (33), both in 1993.
EKU scored the go-ahead touchdown when Tyrone Goard went over a hobbling A.J. Davis to grab T.J. Pryor’s 37-yard pass with 1:24 to play, then stopped JSU running back Calvin Middleton short of the goal line on the final play of the game. The teams combined for 1,140 yards of offense.
“We did everything we could,” Gamecocks quarterback Coty Blanchard said. “We got down there. We just couldn’t put it in.”
Pryor passed for 282 yards and five touchdowns in the game. Goard caught three of the scoring strikes. Matt Denham rushed for 209 yards, his fourth 200-yard game in the last five weeks and third in a row.
The Gamecocks also had some impressive individual efforts. Washaun Ealey rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Alan Bonner, celebrating his 21st birthday, caught nine passes for 205 yards. Blanchard threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-28 passing.
“There was some tremendous play out there tonight,” Crowe said. “It represents what’s good about your football team. It’s sad those kinds of efforts are covered up by what happened at the end of this game.”
It all boiled down to the final eight minutes — and it turned as quickly as the Gamecocks built their big lead.
They seemingly had it won after converting three takeaways and a fourth-down stop deep in their territory into four touchdowns to lead 48-24 with 7:25 to play.
The Colonels’ comeback started when Pyror threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Bailey. That’s when JSU coach Jack Crowe made a fateful decision to substitute his seniors and it wound up costing dealing.
They drove into EKU territory, but instead of giving James Esco a shot at his third field goal, they ran a play. Jordan Allen fumbled and EKU defensive end Anthony Brown scooped it up and went 71 yards for a TD to cut JSU’s lead to 48-38 with 5:23 left.
“I didn’t kick the field goal because I didn’t want to have a (play) that could be blocked,” Crowe said. “It was just the most conservative thing to do.
“We took some people out of the game, put some people in … who had certain responsibilities. The thing I’m going to be wrestling with is it’s about putting guys in the game seemingly thinking 24 points was (enough). I put seniors in the game because it was their last (home) game. That’s a lesson for you.”
The Gamecocks still had a shot and had it at the 3 with 17 seconds left. Blanchard had an opening for a brief moment, but the Colonels smothered him at the 2 and kept him from getting up with the clock ticking down.
The Gamecocks finally got to the line and Blanchard spiked it with two seconds left to set up a do-or-die play. Calvin Middleton got the call up the middle, the same play he broke off a 50-yard gain earlier in the game, but the Colonels stopped him cold at the 1 as time expired.
“The ball’s on the 1-yard line with one play to score and quite honestly I’d go down there and tee that thing up again and just say who wants it,” Crowe said. “When it came down to that one play, I have to say maybe their line of scrimmage wanted it more than we did, and if that’s what it comes down to, then we had our chance to win the game right there.
“I thought it was a magnificent drive by Coty, a lot of play makers, but when it came time to knock their ass off the ball we didn’t do it.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.