By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Jacksonville State head football coach John Grass believes in giving the fans what they wanted on Dec. 11.
For folks who enjoy a good defensive struggle, the first 30 minutes was just that with the Gamecocks clinging to a 13-10 lead at halftime.
For fans who prefer an active scoreboard, the floodgates opened in the second half on the way to Jacksonville State’s 58-38 win over Charleston Southern.
With the victory, the Gamecocks advanced to the FCS playoff semifinals for the first time in school history. JSU hosts Sam Houston State this Saturday (Dec. 19).
“We are in uncharted waters, and feel blessed to be playing next week,” Grass said. “I want to say thanks to our fans for great atmosphere. They were definitely the 12th Man tonight. I also want to say what a class act Jamey Chadwell and Charleston Southern are. They have a great program and do it the right way. It was a team effort to get the job done tonight. “These guys continue to amaze me, and I’ve been saying that since the season started. They’ve been fun to watch, and anyone who has seen them play can tell you that.”
Last Friday’s game, which was televised nationally on ESPN2 and had an announced attendance of 22,797, certainly didn’t look like it would be an offensive explosion early on. With just two touchdowns scored between the two teams during the first 15 minutes, one a 14-yard pass from Jenkins to Dalton Screws and the other a 1 yard run from Charleston’s Mike Holloway, it appeared the game could be an old fashioned defensive struggle.
At that point, JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope put on a show of offensive firepower. The Gamecocks built what appeared to be an insurmountable 34-17 lead after a 76-yard touchdown run from Eli Pope, an 11-yard touchdown run from Miles Jones and an 83-yard run from Jenkins as the third quarter came to a close.
The crowd sensed that it might be the beginning of the end until Charleston Southern return specialist Darrius Hammond returned a kickoff deep inside JSU territory and Kenny Dinkins caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Copeland to pull the Buccaneers to within 10 points.
The visitors closed the gap to 10 points twice more in the fourth quarter, but never could eliminate JSU’s big-play ability.
Hammond finished the game with 295 return yards, and the team as a whole put up 375 yards of total offense.
Jenkins and Pope combined for 37 carries, 445 yards and 5 touchdowns. Pope finished with a team-high 252 rushing yards and set a single season rushing record for the Gamecocks, while Jenkins finished with 219 yards on the ground and 91 through the air. JSU finished with a 597 yards of total offense.