JSU defeats Mercer, 34-28, in rain-soaked home opener

JSU Quarterback Zerrick Cooper (6) leaps to complete one of his two total rushing touchdowns from Saturday’s home opener against the Mercer Bears. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)JSU Quarterback Zerrick Cooper (6) leaps to complete one of his two total rushing touchdowns from Saturday’s home opener against the Mercer Bears. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Thomas Ashworth, Correspondent

The Gamecocks were able to pull off a 34-28 victory against the Mercer Bears on Saturday despite the torrential downpour gifted by remnants of Hurricane Delta and the Bears’ opening touchdown.

“It didn’t really affect us,” said JSU Quarterback Zerrick Cooper of the torrential downpour. “I think we did a great job of running the ball. As far as throwing goes, I just took what the defense gave me and I’m just happy to have a win.”

This game also served as JSU’s homecoming game, with the homecoming court and the alumni of the year being honored at halftime.

This was JSU’s lone home game of the season after the Ohio Valley Conference announced they would not allow teams to play conference games, but teams were allowed to play four non-conference games. These Ohio Valley Conference games have been pushed back to spring, where the Gamecocks will compete in seven competitions.

After last week’s 24-41 loss to the Florida State Seminoles, the Gamecocks were hungry for a win. After the Bears scored on the opening kickoff, the first quarter ended with Mercer leading Jacksonville State 14-3, with JSU’s lone first quarter points coming from Alen Karajic’s 38-yard field goal.

The Gamecocks offense began to come alive in the second quarter, with JSU scoring 24 unanswered points. After Alen Karajic’s second successful 43-yard field goal, Pat Jackson ran the ball in for a touchdown after rushing for 22 yards in the drive. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper had a pair of rushing touchdowns to follow, with help from running backs Uriah West and Josh Samuel to help reach the end zone. At the end of the half JSU led Mercer by a score of 27-14.

Both team’s defenses were showcased in the third quarter. Darius Joiner accounted for seven tackles and Kolbi Fuqua accounted for four and a half tackles and one tackle for loss. The only points scored in this quarter was from a passing touchdown by Mercer’s Harrison Frost. At the end of the third quarter, the Gamecocks still led the Bears by a score of 27-21.

In the fourth quarter, another JSU touchdown was accounted for, but by the defense. After a complete pass by Mercer, JSU’s Kolbi Fuqua forced a fumble from the reciever. After the fumble, the ball was recovered by Nicario Harper and ran 64 yards for a touchdown and JSU led 34-21. Late into the 4th quarter, Mercer scored another touchdown on a 30-yard passing play. However, Mercer could not come up with the onside kick recovery and JSU won the game 34-28.

“It was not a clean game and we could have played a lot better,” said John Grass, JSU’s football head coach. “Overall, we did what we had to do to win the game. I thought our guys took care of the ball, which is a bright spot. Defensively, we played with about six or seven defensive starters. I knew it was going to take a series or two to catch up with that offense, and probably about the third or fourth series we caught up with it. Overall, defensively, I was pretty pleased. It’s good to get out of it with a win.” 

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper went 12-18 and threw for 139 yards, with no passing touchdowns or interceptions. He also had 29 rushing yards on 12 attempts and accounted for two rushing touchdowns. 

After his eight completion of the game, Cooper moved past Ed Lett and into second place on the JSU all-time passing yards list, with a total of 7,153 yards. The school record of 7,652 yards is held by Eli Jenkins.

Tight end Trae Berry finished the game with 84 yards on 4 receptions and showcased great blocking as well. Gamecock running backs rushed for a total of 127 yards, being led by Pat Jackson who accounted for 62 of them.

The Gamecocks’ next game will be on Oct. 17 against North Alabama. The game will be at Braly Stadium in Florence, Ala. This will be the first time JSU has been to Braly Stadium since defeating Pittsburg State in the 1992 Division II National Championship Game.

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