Five in a row.
For the fifth time in five years under Coach John Grass, the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks have won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship.
“It’s a pretty special thing. I don’t know many college athletes that have four championships, let alone five,” Coach Grass said at Monday’s press conference. “These guys have got one for the thumb. It’s very impressive when you look back at it.”
For the first time under Grass however, that conference championship wasn’t pretty.
After losing to Southeast Missouri State earlier in the year, snapping their 36-game win streak in the OVC, Grass’s Gamecocks needed outside help for the first time to win the conference outright.
They got that help on Saturday, as Murray State completed a 31-point comeback against SEMO with a wild finish that included 20 points in the final 1:42 of game time and a game-winning kick return for touchdown with just three seconds remaining on the clock. Murray State left the door open for JSU with a 40-38 victory.
The Gamecocks took advantage of the opportunity with their 41-14 win over their final OVC opponent of the season, Tennessee State, securing the title once again.
Quarterback Zerrick Cooper had a big day in the conference-clinching win, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Two went to Jamari Hester and one to Josh Pearson, who extends his school-record receiving touchdowns mark to 16 on the season. Cooper also tied Ryan Perrilloux’s single-season school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 23.
“It’s definitely a blessing to win five conference championships since I’ve been here,” said redshirt senior lineman Tyler Scozzaro.
Scozzaro, who has been with the JSU football program since 2013, is one of five Gamecocks to have been on the roster for all five championship seasons.
EJ Moss, Emmanuel Fennel, Quan Stoudemire and Cade Stinnett will join Scozzaro in having received all five rings.
The win also secured the OVC’s Automatic Qualifier spot for the playoffs for JSU, promising a playoff berth that looked in doubt as recently as the previous week, when the Gamecocks trailed UT Martin late in the game at home, before a game-winner from Cooper to Hester lifted JSU.
JSU closes the regular season with a matchup against playoff-bound Kennesaw State, who ousted the Gamecocks in last season’s playoff opener 17-7. The game, played at the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park on Saturday, holds major playoff implications for both sides, as a win could secure a first-round bye for either quad, while a loss all but guarantees a game Thanksgiving weekend for the Gamecocks.
Armed with their five-straight conference championships, JSU will head into the playoffs in search of their first national title.