By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Jacksonville State found itself in an unusual place on Saturday (Sept. 18).
The top-ranked Gamecocks (2-1, 1-0) were poised to defend their rating for the first time against Tennessee State. Although the Gamecocks started sluggishly, they would explode for a 21-0 halftime lead (while holding held TSU to 18 first half yards) on the way to a 48-13 victory before a record crowd Burgess-Snow Field crowd of 23,413 in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both squads.
“[Tennessee State] had a hard time running the football, and we were able to rush for close to 350 yards,” said JSU coach John Grass. “I was proud of how we handled the line on both sides of the ball.”
Eli Jenkins got Jacksonville State on the scoreboard first, tossing a 21-yard scoring pass to Markis Merrill with 14:47 left in the second quarter.
Jenkins threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Josh Barge six minutes later for a 14-0 lead. Ra’Shad Green intercepted TSU quarterback Ronald Butler on the ensuing possession. The Gamecocks got into the end zone three plays later, with Miles Jones scoring on a two-yard run.
Tennessee State’s lone scoring opportunity in the first two quarters came when Ezra Robinson picked off a Jenkins pass and returned it 83 yards to end zone. The Tigers (2-1, 0-1) were flagged for a pair of 15-yard penalties during the interception return, however, nullifying the touchdown.
Connor Rouleau’s 34-yard field goal to open the third quarter extended the JSU lead to 24-0.
Tennessee State, which rallied from a two score deficit in the fourth quarter of its season opener against Alabama State, got an 84-yard touchdown pass from Butler to Patrick Smith and a 23-yard pass to Isiah Jeffries-Freeman to draw to within 24-13 with 5:57 to go in the third.
But the Gamecocks scored two touchdowns in a 42-second span, including another two-yard run by Jones and a one-yard run by Josh Clemons to extend their lead to 38-13 entering the final period.
Jacksonville State later tacked on a 22-yard field goal by Cade Stinnett to make it 41-13.The Gamecock’s final score came on a 17-yard scoring run by Jarren Johnson. Stinnett’s extra point finished the scoring with 53 seconds left.
JSU continues OVC play this Saturday (Sept. 26) at Tennessee-Martin.