No. 10 Gamecocks shake off slow start at UTM to remain undefeated in OVC

Freshman Michael Pettway breaks free as Gamecocks defeated UT Martin on Sunday to remain undefeated in the OVC. (Courtesy of JSU)Freshman Michael Pettway breaks free as Gamecocks defeated UT Martin on Sunday to remain undefeated in the OVC. (Courtesy of JSU)

Jamerious Borden, Correspondent

The Gamecock football team (6-1, 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference) defeated the Skyhawks for the tenth time in 11 games in what was likely the final meeting between the programs as Jacksonville State joins the ASUN Conference on July 1.

UT Martin (1-2, 1-2) stunned Jacksonville State by jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the largest deficit the Gamecocks faced since the Mercer game on Oct. 10. 

However, JSU was able to overcome 109 yards in penalties to build a 20-10 lead before halftime and never allowed the Skyhawks to get within 10 points the rest of the afternoon. 

Zion Webb threw three touchdown passes for the second week in a row, becoming the first Jacksonville State quarterback since Zerrick Cooper pulled off the feat in the final two games back in 2019.

Webb had touchdown passes to Dave Russell III, Ahmad Edwards and Mike Pettway while completing 11 of 20 passes without an interception. Russell caught five passes for 107 yards, a season-high total that surpassed Trae Barry’s 104-yard performance at North Alabama in October. 

Jacksonville State scored 27 unanswered points after spotting UTM an early lead and head coach John Grass liked the way his squad faced adversity. 

“We got off to a rough start and lost two starters in that first quarter,” said Grass. “Once we got rolling offensively, I thought we played really well.”

“I wanted to see how this bunch would face some adversity and how they respond,” he continued. “I was very excited about how they responded on the road, down 10-early, we had to find a way to turn the game around. I was just really proud of the guys for doing that.”

Josh Samuel had a four-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Uriah West finished off the scoring with a five-yard run around Webb’s three TD passes and a 25-yard field goal by Alen Karajic. 

UT Martin was limited to 29 rushing yards on 20 carries, the first time the Gamecocks defense limited an opponent to fewer than 50 yards on the ground since Murray State in 2018.

The final minute of the first half featured a shocking special teams play that was viewed by press box observers.

Karajic’s line-drive kickoff following Edward’s touchdown catch struck a UT Martin player up front directly in the facemask, bounced toward the Skyhawks’ end zone and was recovered by the freshman kicker at JSU’s 14. The Gamecocks ran out the remaining time in the second quarter after the unique onside kick recovery to carry a 20-10 lead to the locker room.

Karajic was credited with his first career fumble recovery.

The Gamecocks return to the friendly confines of Burgess-Snow Field on Sunday at 2 p.m. to face Southeast Missouri. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN+.

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