By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
One year ago, Jacksonville State made its first appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs under new head coach John Grass, where the Gamecocks was upset and eliminated by Sam Houston State.
Whoever said revenge is a dish best served cold must have known what they were speaking of, as JSU extracted its revenge on the visitors from Texas with a 62-10 thrashing.
The Gamecocks will play four-time defending national champion North Dakota State for the FCS championship on Jan. 9 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
The game was not as close as the score indicated; as a matter of fact, the contest was well out of hand long before the halftime break. JSU held the nation’s top-ranked offense to only 154 yards at intermission.
An overflow crowd of 23,692 fans filled Burgess-Snow Field to set a new attendance mark.
“I don’t think we could have played much better,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “The first half was the best half of football that I’ve ever been around. We beat a dang good football team tonight. They’re the No. 1 team in terms of offense and we held them to 10 points. We lived losing to them for over a year now, and you can live with that if you played your best, but we knew we didn’t play our best last year and that’s hard to swallow. This bunch has been hungry and driven every day. They wanted to get back and have another opportunity.”
Jacksonville State (13-1) gained 639 yards offensively, with 360 on the ground and 279 passing.
Troymaine Pope was all over the field for the Gamecocks, as the senior running back finished with 181 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He averaged 8.6 yards per attempt.
Quarterback Eli Jenkins finished 17 of 23 in passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Jenkins’ favorite target, Josh Barge, caught six passes for 121 yards while setting a single-season receiving yardage record.
JSU tried a short kick on the opening kickoff, and Lawon DeBardelaben’s tackle forced Sam Houston State’s Hayden Cagle to fumble.
“We went into the game wanting to keep the ball away from their returners,” Grass said. “They have two guys who are really good. We saw them fumble a couple of those and struggle with that throughout the year.”
JSU’s Santavius Oden covered the ball at the Bearcat 31 to give the Gamecocks good field position to start the game. Jenkins scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run that gave the Gamecocks the 7-0 lead with 13:25 left in the opening quarter.
The JSU defense forced four turnovers in the game, three of which were on Sam Houston State’s first three possessions of the game.
The Gamecocks built a 17-0 lead after the first 15 minutes of play on the way to a 41-10 lead at the half.
The second half saw JSU play a lot of young players while added another 21 points. The Bearcats were held to 259 yards, 292 yards less than their season average.
This is the first FCS Championship Game appearance in the history of the program. The last national title game for the Gamecocks was a 17-13 win over Pittsburg State in the 1992 Division II national championship game.
The Bison have won 19 consecutive playoff games, and Grass knows what his team is up against.
“We see this as a challenge. The road goes through [North Dakota State] to win it, and we’re glad to have the opportunity. It goes back to playing a faceless opponent; it’s all about how we play. I like our chances if we play well. I said before the season that this group was going to be a special group to watch play. They handle their business on-and-off the field. We put ourselves in a position to win a national championship, and that’s right where we want to be. We’re proud to be representing the Ohio Valley Conference and we’re going to bring the national championship back home.”