Photo: Jacksonville State’s Justin Thomas-Thornton (4) chases Austin Peay’s Kentel Williams during the Gamecocks’ 48-32 football victory last Saturday (Sept. 29) in Jacksonville. (Mike Goodson/Messenger)
By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Jacksonville State head football coach John Grass and his Gamecocks must know how it feels to have a bulls-eye painted on their back.
“We’re everybody’s Super Bowl,” Grass said. “We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
For the second week in a row, JSU struggled early before getting their offense untracked to win going away. The No. 8 Gamecocks were down 9-0 Austin Peay after the first 15 minutes last Saturday (Sept. 29) before taking a two-point lead at the half. Jacksonville State outscored the Governors 34 to 20 in the second half on the way to a 48-32 victory in Jacksonville.
JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper became the first Jacksonville State player since 2015 to account for five touchdowns in a game. He threw three touchdown passes in the second half to go with his two earlier scoring runs to lift Jacksonville State (3-1, 2-0 OVC) to a homecoming victory before a crowd of 19,388 at Burgess-Snow Field.
The Gamecocks extended the longest active conference winning streak in Division I to 34 games, the second longest streak in FCS history, trailing only Duquense’s 39 in a row in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference from 1996-2006. JSU also extended its regular-season home winning streak to 27 games, a stretch that dates back to the Gamecocks’ last home loss on Oct. 12, 2013 against Tennessee State.
“I was proud of our guys, especially the way they played in the second and fourth quarters,” Grass said.
The Gamecocks led 14-12 at halftime behind a pair of Cooper touchdown runs. JSU and the Governors swapped scores throughout the third quarter, with Cooper hitting Josh Pearson for a 20-yard TD and later added a 31-yard scoring pass to Jamari Hester.
Austin Peay closed the gap to 28-26 entering the final quarter, but the Gamecocks added touchdowns on their next three possessions to build a 48-26 lead with 1:10 remaining.
Hester’s second TD catch, a 31-yard bomb from Cooper, started Jacksonville State’s fourth quarter outburst. Hester finished the game with career highs for receptions (seven) and yards (146).
Jacksonville State rolled up 485 yards against a Governor defense that entered the game ranked second in the OVC and 32nd nationally. Austin Peay tallied 388 yards, the most allowed by the Gamecocks defense this season and nearly double its season average of 191 yards per game. Cooper was 18-for-31 through the air for 268 yards with one interception. Pearson hauled in three passes and now has six touchdown receptions in 2018.
JSU has now won the last 12 meetings in the series with Austin Peay and leads the all-time series with the Governors 20-6-3, including a 12-3-1 mark in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville State travels to Eastern Kentucky for its first OVC road game this Saturday (Oct. 6).