Byers and his Jacksonville State secondary mates were facing the most prolific passer in the FCS this season. Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo already had broken many of the conference passing records and every Saturday he took the field he was moving up the national lists.
The wind of the day might have affected what he could do against the Gamecocks, but it didn’t keep him from impressing them. Garoppolo completed 15 of 24 passes for 169 yards, threw for two touchdowns and caught a pass for another score.
“I definitely feel he’s an NFL quarterback. He’s a great quarterback,” Byers said. “He knew exactly where to put the ball. Even when you were in good coverage he found a way to get the ball in to where only his guy could catch it. I can’t put anybody close to him. He’s one of the best I ever played against.”
Part of Byers’ assignment was to shadow Garoppolo’s favorite target, Eric Lora. Lora caught five passes for 93 yards, but didn’t find the end zone. The five catches matched his season low.
James one up
If the big matchup of the day was seeing who could find the end zone more, Lora or JSU running back DaMarcus James, then James won.
The EIU receiver didn’t catch a touchdown pass for only the third time this season. James, meanwhile, scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
And James’ score was a big one.
It was his 20th touchdown of the season, breaking Oscar Bonds’ school record set in 2004. James is now one shy of tying the OVC record set by Elroy Harris of Eastern Kentucky in 1988.
James also has scored a touchdown in eight straight games.
Receiver Gabe Chambers has been in a fixture on the Jacksonville State offense and special teams, but Saturday, he made the first start of his career.
The Cherokee County High grad led the Gamecocks on a tough passing day with three catches for 44 yards. He also had a 30-yard kickoff return.
Chambers became the 18th player to earn his first career start this season. He had played in 27 games previously.
And speaking of receivers, freshman Anthony Johnson had his third touchdown catch of the season — most among JSU receivers.
Heads, you lose
Next year when the Gamecocks go on the road, maybe they can do something to change their luck calling the coin toss.
The Gamecocks have lost the toss five times in their six road games this season.
Losing it Saturday played a big factor in the game, because it allowed Eastern Illinois to defer, taking the 25-mph wind in the first quarter.
That stifled the Gamecocks’ ability to establish an early passing game, the Panthers scored 35 points and sailed to a 52-14 win.
“Nobody would believe this, but I was praying to win the toss; it was that significant,” JSU head coach Bill Clark said. “When we walked the field and watched the wind, I’m watching the ball die. I’ve never really been in a wind quite like that. They didn’t try to throw the ball. He (EIU coach Dino Babers) understood it.”
Saturday notwithstanding, even though the Gamecocks might not have had success at the coin toss, they did have success on the road this season. They came into the game 5-0, the only OVC team undefeated on the road this season.
The Gamecocks close out the regular season Saturday at 3 p.m. against Southeast Missouri.
The Redhawks (3-8, 2-5) held on to beat winless Austin Peay 36-34.
SEMO coach Tony Samuel knew it was going to be an important game for his team.
“At this point, we’ve got to fix ourselves,” he said. “A lot of little things are getting in the way that keep us from playing well. This is a very important game for us just to get some momentum back.”
The Gamecocks have won the last five in the series and nine of the 10 games played since JSU joined the OVC in 2003.