Jamerious Borden, Correspondent
The No. 12 Gamecocks (8-2, 5-1 OVC) took care of business on a sunny Saturday afternoon when they made noise with 17 points in a five-minute span in the second quarter in a 44-23 win over Eastern Illinois at O’Brien Field.
The victory sets up a showdown for the conference championship on the road against No. 14 Murray State in next week’s regular-season finale.
Quarterback Zion Webb threw a pair of touchdowns to Ahmad Edwards and ran for another and safety Hudson Petty returned a fumble for a touchdown as Jacksonville State knocked off the Panthers for the seventh straight time in what was likely its last trip to EIU. Also, wide receiver Jared Scott’s 27-yard reception from Webb in the first quarter was the longest reception of his career.
Uriah West and Josh Samuel contributed short TD runs and Alan Karajic added a career-long 46 yard field goal as JSU rolled up a season-high for total yards (540) and points scored. The Gamecocks had four plays of 40 yards or more against the Panthers (1-5, 1-5 OVC).
EIU was held to only 81 rushing yards, the eighth straight opponent limited less than 100 yards on the ground by the Gamecock defense.
“It was a great bounce-back win,” said Jacksonville State head coach John Grass. “It was one of the better days offensively that we’ve had all year. Our offensive guys had a great week of practice. Zion Webb had a great week and he showed that today. Now we’ve got to move on and get ready to win a championship.”
Webb completed 16-for-24 passes for 240 yards without an interception after being picked off four times the previous week.
Both of his touchdown passes went to Edwards, who hauled in a 26-yard TD reception in the first quarter and an 11-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter. The sophomore from Alabaster finished with five catches for a career-high 101 yards.
Jacksonville State broke open a tie game midway through the second quarter when West capped off a five-play drive with a three-yard run, his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. Karajic’s extra point put the Gamecocks ahead 14-7 at the 7:47 mark in the second quarter.
On Eastern Illinois’ first play following a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, JSU safety Hudson Petty recovered a fumble and sprinted 22 yards to the end zone just eight seconds later. Karajic’s PAT stretched the lead 21-7.
Webb rushed a team-high 15 times for 63 and scored on a two-yard run in the third quarter. Samuel was again the rushing leader with 130 yards on only 12 attempts, including a 64-yard burst deep into EIU territory in the third quarter. This also marks the second-longest run of the season for the Gamecocks.
Jaylen Swain led Jax State with eight tackles and Nicario Harper, Marshall Clark, and D.J. Coleman were each credited with seven stops. Petty’s fumble recovery was the game’s only turnover, which was also the first touchdown by a Gamecock defender since Harper’s 64-yard return against Mercer on Oct. 10, 2020.
No. 14 Murray State, which is ranked for the first time since 2011, fell 34-31 against Austin Peay. Saturday’s matchup with the Racers is now winner-take-all for the OVC title.
Kickoff to decide the OVC’s automatic qualifier for the FCS playoffs is set for Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. at Roy Stewart Stadium in Murray, Ky., with the broadcast available on ESPN+.
Jacksonville State is 15-2 all-time against the Racers and has not lost at Murray State since 2003.