Preston Odam, Correspondent
Central Arkansas visited Burgess-Snow Field where they defeated the JSU Gamecocks in a 38-14 final outcome Saturday, Oct. 30. Jacksonville State is now 3-5 overall with a 1-2 record in AQ7 competition. JSU now needs to win the final three games of the season to continue their streak of 18 straight seasons with a record of .500 or better. This record leads the FCS.
JSU turned the ball over twice in the first half that led to scoring from the Bears of Central Arkansas. Breylin Smith, UCA’s quarterback, threw a 13 yard touchdown pass after leading a 75 yard drive down field in the opening possession of the game. Zerrick Cooper’s pass to Ahmad Edwards was picked off in JSU’s ensuing drive which resulted in 23 yard return to JSU’s 12 yard line. Smith scored on a quarterback run not long after, causing the Bears to capture a 14-0 lead only six minutes in the game. JSU would score on a pass from Cooper to Edwards cutting the UCA lead to 14-7 with a little over five minutes remaining in the first half.
Jax State’s offense was on the move nearing the end of the first half when Cooper was intercepted again. Trenton Dunn, a linebacker for the Bears, returned the interception for a pick six to extend the lead for UCA to 21-7 with 1:15 remaining in the second half. Jacksonville State would respond in their opening drive of the second half. Josh Samuel had a 48-yard rush, which is a season-long rush for him, that got the Gamecocks within striking distance of the UCA goal line. Samuel would then score on a three yard rush with 10 and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter. The score cut the lead for UCA to 21-14. The momentum was taken from JSU after Central Arkansas scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Cooper threw a third interception in the fourth which was returned for another touchdown for the Bears. This pick six furthered the UCA lead to 38-14 late in the fourth. Even though Cooper threw 3 interceptions, he completed 22 of 40 passing attempts for 248 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass was Cooper’s 68th passing touchdown of his career. Cooper also is now one touchdown shy of tying former Gamecock quarterback Eli Jenkins with 89 touchdowns in total including passing and rushing. Samuel had a JSU season high of 113 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Nicario Harper, the All-American safety, led the Gamecock defense with eight tackles. Yul Gowdy and Markail Benton both added seven tackles apiece.
JSU head coach John Grass said, “We’re just disappointed and frustrated. I thought once we adjusted our defense after that first drive, we played pretty well. Offensively, yardage wise, this was one of our better games, but you’re not going to win games like that by turning the ball over three times. We’re also playing without two or three players a week now too. The game should have been down to the wire though. Whether we win it or not, I don’t know but it should have been down to the wire. The defense played well enough to win and offensively, if we don’t turn the ball over, I think we’re in the game.”
Jacksonville State now prepares for their final home game of the 2021 season. Next Saturday, November 6, Abilene Christian visits Burgess-Snow Field to face the Gamecocks. This is another AQ7 matchup in which Jacksonville State desperately needs to come away from with a victory. The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff and will be available for streaming on ESPN+.