JSU renews in-state rivalry with North Alabama Lions

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By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent

Jacksonville State’s Burgess-Snow Field will host an old-school game of sorts this weekend.

The Gamecocks host North Alabama on Saturday, renewing an old rivalry that dates back to when JSU was a Division II program, as a conference rival with the Lions as a member of the Gulf South Conference.

“I think that anyone from this area, or went to school here, as I did and grew up in this area, knows about the rivalry between Jacksonville State and North Alabama,” JSU head coach Bill Clark said during his weekly press conference. “The old Gulf South Conference was a great conference, and there were many great games played at Jacksonville State and at North Alabama. When we came out of the conference, UNA dominated it and won three national championships.”

The Gamecocks held on for a 24-22 win in their season opening win over Alabama State before dominating Jacksonville University, 48-13, last week.

In the big win over JU, JSU set a team record by rushing for 523 yards. The former mark was set in 2004, when JSU rushed for 453 yards in a win against Samford.

The Gamecocks also set an NCAA record by having four different players – Troymaine Pope, Miles Jones, Eli Jenkins and DeMarcus James – rush for more than 100 yards each.

Pope led all ball carriers with 160 yards and three touchdowns. Jones rushed for 138 yards, quarterback Jenkins ran for 128 yards and a touchdown, and James had 105 yards and a score.

Jenkins entered the game after starting quarterback Max Shortell somewhat struggled to get the offense moving.

“We went into last week talking about making some corrections from week one to week two, and I think it was pretty obvious that we had a great win in the first week, but we knew there were a lot of things to work on to get better,” Clark said. “I think the coach-speak of the most improvement from the first game to the second game held true for us. We felt like we corrected some things and in a never-ending process of getting better.  

“We saw all the corrections that we wanted to see and had a really great week of practice. We came out and ran the ball well, which was one of our big points of emphasis. To have a record-breaking night from our rushing attack was really nice, especially in front of a great home crowd.”

Another large crowd is expected for the North Alabama game.

With the rivalry at a fever pitch, the Gamecocks left the GSC after winning the D-II national championship in 1992. That season, JSU defeated UNA, 10-6, in the regular season and beat the Lions again, 14-12, in the national playoffs.

Those two games were indicative of the series’ history, with JSU holding a 23-18-3 advantage. The two teams have played just once since the regular series ended, with the Gamecocks dropping a 28-16 loss at home in 2003.

“We know what this rivalry means and we have already talked to the players about what it means,” Clark said. “We have a lot of respect for North Alabama and know a lot of guys on that team. Once again, just like Alabama State, it is an in-state rivalry that is not far away, which is good for both schools. We have no illusions about Division II versus FCS. We know that they have really good players and it showed in their first game. We have our work cut out.”

The Florence squad picked up a big win in its only game this season, a 42-7 rout of Miles College. That victory propelled the Lions into the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II Top 25 national poll.

Needless to say, the Gamecocks are not taking Saturday’s game lightly against No. 22 UNA.

“Who is to say what is an upset? This team is supposed to beat this team, and that really doesn’t mean anything,” Clark said. “It is all about who goes out there and plays and I think you are seeing FBS and FCS getting a lot closer together. We have plenty of guys that were recruited by plenty of FBS teams that chose to play at Jacksonville State because of the great place that it is. I really think North Alabama is just like us, they have great players that can play anywhere and when you look at them on film, they will be as good as anyone we will play in our conference. We know they are well-coached and know they will play physical and run the football very well.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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