Jacksonville State defeats Eastern Illinois

Jacksonville State won in a narrow 28-20 victory against Eastern Illinois. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)Jacksonville State won in a narrow 28-20 victory against Eastern Illinois. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Josie Howell, Sports Editor

After losing multiple away games, the Gamecocks were ready to prove their worth away from Burgess-Snow Field in Saturday’s game against Eastern Illinois. This game was a constant back and forth between both teams, but the Gamecocks determination and teamwork would help them come out on top.

This game was anything short of an exciting game for Gamecock fans. Starting quarterback Zerrick Cooper became the first player in Jacksonville State history to throw three touchdowns in five consecutive games. Meanwhile, wide receiver Josh Pearson added to his record of touchdowns, walking away with a new career record of 26 touchdowns.

The first quarter of the game started out slow for the Gamecocks as the Panthers put the first touchdown and extra point on the scoreboard, but the Gamecocks were able to answer back.

With three minutes left in the quarter, Cooper threw a four-yard pass to Pearson, putting the ball in the endzone and successfully earning an extra point. The first quarter then came to a close with the teams tied 7-7.

In the second quarter, the Gamecocks would come back even stronger, putting two more touchdowns and extra points on the scoreboard while keeping Eastern Illinois from scoring for the remainder of the half.

The first touchdown of this quarter came from a 19-yard pass from Cooper to KJ Stepherson. The next one came less than two minutes left in the half from a three-yard run from running back Michael Matthews. This would end the half with the Gamecocks in the lead 21-7.

Defense would dominate in the third quarter of this matchup. The Panthers had seemingly regrouped during halftime and were ready to come back onto the field stronger than they were in the first half. 

For the majority of the third quarter, it was a scoreless game. Then, with less than four minutes left in the quarter, the Panthers were finally able to penetrate the Gamecocks’ strong defense on the third yard line and put the ball in the end-zone followed by an extra point.

This ended the third quarter with the Gamecocks still in the lead at 21-14, but Eastern Illinois was still not written off at this point.

With only a few seconds into the fourth quarter, there was a kick fail from JSU’s Josh Delgado which gave Eastern Illinois’ Isaiah Hill a chance to make a 10-yard run touchdown, bringing the score 21-20, with the Gamecocks up by only one point, making it anyone’s game.

Just two minutes and four plays later, the dynamic duo of Zerrick Cooper and Josh Pearson answered back. Cooper threw an impressive 39-yard pass to Pearson who put another touchdown on the board, making this a one-touchdown game with less than 13 minutes left in the matchup.

The Gamecocks continued to play a powerful defense for the remainder of the game, eventually putting the game to an end with a score of 28-20 with the Gamecocks coming out victorious. This was the Gamecocks sixth consecutive win over the Panthers.

“I thought we played well in the first half and I think defensively we gave up some drives and we were able to get some stops in the red zone,” said John Grass, JSU head football coach. “Offensively, we moved the football in the first half outside of the missed field goal at the beginning of the game. In the third quarter, I just felt like we didn’t play very well on either side of the ball. I think one part of that is because I chose the wind to start the fourth quarter instead of the third quarter and I probably just have reversed that.” 

“I think the wind became a factor in the third quarter, but it was a factor all throughout the game because we missed shot plays early in the game that would have been touchdowns if we had not over thrown the ball,” said Grass. “The wind was hard to tell where it was coming from. It affects the kicking game and the ability to throw the ball. It was encouraging that when they did score in the second half, we came back down and scored to go back up by eight.”

Throughout this game, fans were able to see Jamari Hester catch a season-high of nine total passes for 99 yards, Matthews run for 93 yards on 15 carries, both career highs and Pearson catch five for 70 yards and move past Butch Barker (1975-78) for seventh place all-time with 105 career receptions.

The Gamecocks will be playing at home this Saturday Oct. 19 for their homecoming game against South Eastern Missouri. Kick-off will begin at 3:00 p.m. Fans can stream the game on ESPN+ or tune into 91.9 WLJS for a live play-by-play of the action.

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