The No. 3 Jacksonville State Gamecocks defeated Eastern Illinois 27-20 to claim the Ohio Valley Conference Championship and clinch a playoff spot in the FCS Playoffs.
The Gamecocks are now 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. This is the first time in school history that Jacksonville State has posted a perfect 7-0 in the OVC.
Jacksonville State head coach John Grass has the most wins through 10 games than any JSU coach in his debut season.
The passing game was huge in the win as Eli Jenkins passed for a career best 288 yards and one touchdown. Josh Barge led the receivers with eight receptions, 153 yards and a touchdown. Ruben Gonzalez caught seven passes of his own for 113 yards. This was the first time the Gamecocks had two receivers over 100 yards since Nov. 3, 2001.
“We knew we were going to have to throw it coming in,” said head coach John Grass in the post-game interview. “Barge had his normal day, Eli played really, really well and it was good to see Ruben get going. He showed tonight what we thought he could do the whole season.”
DaMarcus James had another good game on the ground as he rushed for over 100 yards with a touchdown. James has a school-record of 17 career 100-yard rushing games.
On the defensive end, Darius Jackson and Jaylen Hill both had interceptions. Jackson returned his interception for a 27-yard touchdown. Michael Carlisle and Ben Endress both led with 10 tackles.
Jacksonville State scored on their first drive of the game in just two plays. It only took 41 seconds for Jenkins to find Barge on a 59-yard touchdown pass. JSU jumped up 7-0 early in the game. However, Eastern Illinois would find the end zone towards the end of the first quarter to tie the score at seven.
In the second quarter, Connor Rouleau kicked two back-to-back field goals to put the Gamecocks up 13-7. Then, after another defensive stand, Jacksonville State’s running back James found the end zone on an 8-yard run. JSU went up 20-7 at halftime.
In the third, Eastern Illinois scored 10 unanswered points to bring the score to 20-17.
It was early in the fourth quarter when Jackson intercepted a pass for the Gamecocks and returned it for a 27-yard touchdown. This made the score 27-17 until Eastern Illinois added three more points with a field goal. EIU had two more chances to score again, but the Gamecocks defense stopped them and held them to no yards on the last two possessions. The final score ended 27-20.
JSU will now head on the road to Cape Giradeau, Mo. to face Southeast Missouri in the last game of the regular season.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good week this week and go on the road and beat a good SEMO team and make sure we get one of the top four seeds and get to play at home,” said Grass.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Live stats and game information can be found at www.jsugamecocksports.com.