Jacksonville State started a month-long gauntlet against some of the nation’s best Saturday night and held Tennessee Tech at bay by controlling the ball for more than 41 minutes in a huge 37-28 road win that helped jumble the early-season OVC race.
The Gamecocks (3-2, 2-1 OVC), now tied with four teams for second place in the league, amassed 566 yards on 90 plays. They held the ball for a total of 41 minutes and 14 seconds.
“That’s the only way right now we can hold up,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said. “I don’t know what the numbers were, but in terms of talking about what we’re headed for, this was the first step of what is going to be something that challenges us in this spread concept.
“Even though I didn’t think their tempo was extraordinary — I think we’re going to see more tempo — I thought we kept our composure with them.”
Tech quarterback Tre Lamb was one of the nation’s most prolific passers, but he couldn’t be effective the way JSU was controlling the ball. The Gamecocks face two quarterbacks even more prolific in the next three weeks — Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Murray State’s Casey Brockman.
Lamb struggled through the first half and finished with 171 yards on 12 of 33 passing. The Gamecocks held his top receiver, Tennessee transfer Da’Rick Rogers, to five catches and 78 yards. All told, the Golden Eagles (2-4, 0-3) had 266 yards of net offense.
Jax State, meanwhile, balanced 566 yards of offense in their 90 plays. The Gamecocks were 10-of-19 on third-down conversions. Marques Ivory completed 15 of 25 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown. DaMarcus James rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries .
“We knew coming in we didn’t want to leave our defense on the field for a long time,” Ivory said. “That’s what we hadn’t been doing early in the year, putting much together. We did that.”
Just as spectacular for the Gamecocks was Telvin Brown. The true freshman was thrown into duty returning both kicks and punts and being the Gamecocks’ deep threat in the absence of injured Gabe Chambers and Alan Bonner. Brown had 275 all-purpose yards, which included a 72-yard kickoff return that set up one touchdown and an 86-yard touchdown catch that gave JSU its first lead of the game.
“TB did a great job,” Ivory said. “We told him he can’t have any more freshman mistakes any more. He did a good job coming in for those guys and made big plays. He stepped up and played big. Now we know we have another guy that we can put in the rotation. The more weapons the better.”
But for all the Gamecocks did controlling the clock, they didn’t have as much to show for as they could.
In the first 38 and a half minutes of the game, they got inside the Tech 25 five times — four inside the 20, two inside the 10 — and only had three field goals, a touchdown and a missed field goal attempt to show for it. JSU kicker Griffin Thomas hit three field goals in the game.
The Gamecocks trailed 14-0 in the first quarter and 14-13 at halftime, despite having almost three times as much time of possession and twice as many first downs and yards.
After trailing all game, they finally took the lead with 1:06 left in the third quarter on the 86-yard bomb to Brown from Ivory. Brown sprinted down the sideline, stopped around midfield and got Tech defensive back Austin Tallant off his feet. He caught the ball and then sprinted to the end zone as the night’s rain started to pick up in earnest.
“I just tried to make a play for my team,” Brown said. “Ques saw it was one-on-one coverage and he gave me a shot. I just came down with it and outran everybody to the end zone.”
Once the Gamecocks had the lead, it was time for the defense to stand its ground. It stopped the Golden Eagles on six straight possessions. Washaun Ealey gave the Gamecocks some insurance with a 1-yard run with 2:53 to play.
Tech showed its proficiency early, needed only 82 seconds to score the first touchdown of the game.
The Gamecocks attempted to match Tech’s first score, chewing up nearly five and a half minutes to get inside the Tech 10, but Thomas missed a 24-yard field goal attempt that left all the JSU players scratching their heads.
Tech turned a pick-six into its second touchdown of the first quarter. Caleb Mitchell stepped in front of Kevyn Cooper to pick off Coty Blanchard and returned it 49 yards to make it 14-0 with 2:16 left in the quarter.
The Gamecocks got a big break on the first play of the second quarter. A Hamish MacInnes punt glanced off Tech’s Heath Dyer and Rashod Byers jumped right on to it give JSU possession inside the Tech 20.
Once again the Gamecocks couldn’t punch it into the end zone, but this time Thomas kicked a 34-yard field goal to get JSU on the board. Thomas’ second field goal, a 32-yarder, capped a six-minute drive and made it 14-6.
The Gamecocks cut the deficit to 14-13 with an 80-yard drive capped by James.