Garrett Sanders, Sports Correspondent
The Jacksonville State University football team has faced adversity throughout this season and Saturday, Oct. 5 at Burgess-Snow Field against the Tennessee State Tigers, it was no different. If there was anything evident about this team, it is they always have a slow start overall as a unit. With a team like Tennessee State, that had the chance to be costly.
Tennessee State is known to be a team that can score on any given position they’re in on offense. The first quarter of the game showed why. On the opening drive of the game, the Gamecocks could not stop the Tiger’s explosive attack. That ultimately resulted in seven points in favor of the Tigers.
For JSU, they needed to not find themselves slacking early. However, the offense ended up stalling. This ended up in disaster for the Gamecocks as far as their game plan was concerned.
Tennessee State attacked the Gamecock defense with big chunks of yardage, play after play. Just like that, the Gamecocks found themselves behind by two scores early on in the first quarter.
Down 17-0 early in the game, the Gamecocks have been in this predicament before. A good team always finds a way to overcome adversity when things don’t go their way at first. For the Gamecocks, this would be the ultimate test to find out what their integrity as a team was.
That’s when JSU, as a team, started to figure out what their identity defined them as. The offense went back to the drawing board and adjusted accordingly. A solid drive by the Gamecocks ended up in a 36-yard field goal for kicker Bryant Wallace. This would be a career-long for Wallace.
In the second quarter, the Gamecocks once again stalled on offense. This gave a golden opportunity for the Tigers to attempt to make it a 21-point game at the start of the second quarter. The Tigers offense once again found themselves in scoring position, but facing a challenging obstacle, the Gamecocks found a way to stop the bleeding by forcing the Tigers to settle for three, bringing the score to a 17-3 with TSU in the lead.
The Gamecocks then seized another chance to have a scoring opportunity when Traco Williams recovered a fumble deep in Tennessee State territory. That is when Zerrick Cooper and Josh Pearson went to work and did their thing.
Cooper snapped the ball, dropped back, and found Pearson on the slant for the touchdown. This made the game intriguing and exciting for the energized crowd.
However, the momentum for the Gamecocks did not last long. Tennessee State once again found a way to drive down the field and put some points on the board. Yet, once again, the stingy defense for JSU found a way to bend but not break in the red zone. The Tigers would once again have to settle for three.
When JSU found a way to stop the Tigers in the red zone, that’s when the offense struck back. Zerrick Cooper found different ways to spread the ball around his receivers and give others a chance to shine.
From the 42-yard line, Cooper snapped the ball and executed a perfect play-action pass down and found an unfamiliar target. Without hesitation, Cooper zipped the ball vertically down the field.
Running a perfect route and making a superb effort to catch the ball was receiver KJ Stepherson. This touchdown would make the second of Stepherson’s career as a Gamecock. The touchdown cut the lead for the Gamecocks to three and would end the first half with a score of 20-17.
Tennessee State would find its way in the red zone again midway in the third quarter but only saw three points once again. The mojo for the Gamecocks was to bend but not break. That showed throughout the rest of the game. It was up to the Gamecock offense to do their part.
Despite having trailed behind for most of the game, the Gamecocks found a to make this game in their favor. A long drive set JSU in the red zone, and Zerrick Cooper found his favorite target. Josh Pearson executed a perfect slant route, and Pearson ripped the ball into Pearson’s chest for an 8-yard touchdown. This would give JSU the lead, and they would not turn back.
Michael Matthews finished off the Tigers by capping a 10-yard touchdown run, putting an end to the game with a score of 31-23. But the moral of the story in that drive at the end of the game was Matthews’s ability to carry the ball and run out the clock.
JSU ultimately faced adversity throughout the game, but with grit and determination, they came out winners. For Head Coach John Grass, the importance of getting better each week is crucial.
“It was great to get this win. We made a lot of mistakes, but we got better as the game went on, and we did things to win the game. I can guarantee you Tennessee State was the best 1-4 team in the country. They were so explosive offensively that it probably took us three drives0 into the game to catch up with their speed. I think we got better tonight. We have to continue to do that and keep getting better,” said Grass.
JSU will travel to Eastern Illinois this week, Oct. 12, to continue their quest for a sixth straight Ohio Valley Conference championship. You can catch the game on ESPN+ or tune in to 91.9 WLJS at 12 p.m. to cheer on the Gamecocks.