Preston Odam, Correspondent
Jacksonville State football was able to obtain an important victory against the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin in their first battle with an AQ7 foe. The 28-24 victory was in front of a homecoming crowd at Burgess-Snow Field this past Saturday, October 10.
The AQ7 is an alliance that was formed between the ASUN and the Western Athletic Conference that is only for this football season. The winner of this seven-team alliance will qualify for the FCS playoffs. JSU’s victory over SFA makes them 3-3 overall and 1-0 in AQ7 play.
Jacksonville State won the coin toss and chose to defer to the second half. SFA received the opening kick off and began their first offensive drive of the game. Trae Self, the Lumberjacks’ quarterback, completed a pass but the receiver fumbled the ball. Malik Feaster jarred the ball from the receiver and Nicario Harper scooped the ball, eventually scoring after 55 yards. This defensive score is number four on the season for JSU’s defense which leads the FCS.
On the very next possession for SFA, Harper intercepted Self for a 37 yard return to set up the Gamecock offense on the 12. JSU scores after three plays as quarterback Zerrick Cooper rushes into the endzone from the 3 yard line. JSU started the game off quickly with these two possessions gaining an early 14-0 lead.
JSU’s offense was fairly balanced as Cooper completed 11 of 21 passes for 153 yards with one touchdown. The rushing attack was the biggest factor for JSU’s success. Josh Samuel led the Gamecocks with 104 yards on the game. Uriah West rushed for 46 yards, Ron Wiggins added 23, and Cooper tallied 16 rushing yards as well. PJ Wells led the team in receiving yards with 71 yards. Ahmad Edwards put up 40 yards respectively, as well as adding a receiving touchdown.
The Gamecock defense played well despite giving up 433 total yards. Malik Feaster and Nicario Harper both came up with interceptions. Feaster’s interception came late in the 4th quarter to seal the victory for JSU. Feaster had 11 tackles which was 2 fewer than Jax State’s leading tackler, Stevonte Tullis.
After the early start for JSU, the Lumberjacks started to put together some decent drives. Trae Self connected on a 55 yard strike to receiver Jeremiah Miller with 2:53 remaining in the first quarter to cut the Gamecock lead down to 14-7. JSU responded in the second with Cooper’s 67th career touchdown pass to Edwards. JSU would take a 21-7 lead into the halftime intermission. SFA came out in the third and scored on their first drive of the half. JSU would take a 21-14 lead into the 4th quarter. However, Korbyn White would rush into the endzone for the Lumberjacks to kick off the fourth quarter, tying the game 21-21. SFA kicked a field goal with 5:48 remaining in regulation to gain their first lead of the game 24-21. JSU regained possession and Josh Samuel scored on a rushing touchdown to recover the lead with 1:53 left in the game. Feaster would then intercept SFA in their last attempt to score in the game.
“I thought our guys played with a lot of heart and a lot of character.” Gamecocks head football coach John Grass said. “That was a very talented football team we beat tonight. I thought the first half might have been the best half of football we have played. With our back against the wall, our guys just battled. What a special drive to take the lead at the end of the game.”
Also, Josh Samuel said, “We had a great game plan and we knew it was going to be a four-quarter game. We executed and played as a team.”
The Gamecocks will enjoy a bye week this coming Saturday as they try to get a few key players healthy and prepare for the top ranked team in FCS. On Saturday, October 23, the Gamecocks travel to Huntsville, Texas to face off against Sam Houston State. Sam Houston State is undefeated and the reigning FCS champions, so the Gamecocks are in for a test against the Bearkats.
“I’ve never coached a team that needs an off week more than this one does,” Grass said. “We’re looking forward to getting some guys healthy.”
JSU and Sam Houston are tied in all time matchups, 5-5. Jax State won the last meeting between the two, 62-10, in the 2015 FCS playoffs.