Preston Odam, Correspondent
For the Jacksonville State football team, a necessary win was achieved in the final home game of the season against Abilene Christian University, 40-25. This game was also the last game head coach John Grass will lead the Gamecocks in after mutually parting ways with the program. The win puts the Gamecocks at 4-5 on the season with a 2-3 record in AQ7 play.
Jacksonville State’s offense was hot from the start in the first ever meeting between ACU and Jax State. The offense finished with 497 total yards on offense with 225 of those yards being through the air. JSU collected 272 yards rushing during the game as well. Running back Josh Samuel led the rushing attack for JSU with 119 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Zerrick Cooper threw for 214 yards in the game on 18 completions with two passing touchdowns both being hauled in by Sean Brown. Matthew Caldwell threw for 11 yards on one completed pass. PJ Wells led the Gamecock receiving group with 87 yards on five catches. Uriah West followed Samuel with 76 rushing yards, and Matt LaRoche had 48 yards on two carries. The first carry for LaRoche he created a huge gain for the JSU offense with a 42 yard rush.
With the two passing touchdowns, Zerrick Cooper surpassed Eli Jenkins for JSU’s leader in touchdowns responsible for with 90 touchdowns total. Jenkins was responsible for 89 during his time at JSU. Brown’s two receiving touchdowns were the first two touchdowns of his career. Samuel had his fourth game in his career with multiple touchdown runs.
The Gamecock defense created the first score of the game. ACU’s quarterback, Peyton Mansell, threw an interception to Markail Benton who proceeded to return the pick 52 yards for a touchdown. On the Gamecocks’ first offensive drive, Josh Samuel rushed for his first score of the game. The touchdown came in a drive that lasted less than four minutes in eight plays. During the ensuing drive for ACU, Malik Feaster intercepted the ball for the second time for the JSU defense.
Abilene Christian scored on a field goal and a quarterback rush for a touchdown to cut into the Gamecock lead. However, Alen Karajic hit two field goals for JSU to keep the Gamecock lead at 10 going into the halftime intermission. JSU received the ball coming out of the halftime break and scored on their opening third quarter drive to extend the lead 27-10. The score came on one of Brown’s receptions for a touchdown from Cooper. Abilene Christian would score late in the third quarter to cut the Gamecock lead to 10 again, but this would be the last time the Wildcats scored until under two minutes were left in the game.
Samuel scored his second touchdown of the day on a 17 yard rush to kick off the final quarter of play. Nicario Harper intercepted the Wildcats for the third takeaway of the game for the JSU defense. Following the interception, Cooper hit Brown again for another touchdown to increase the lead to 40-17. ACU would score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but the 40-25 lead with 1:23 left in the game was too much for a possible comeback.
The head coach of the Gamecocks said, “It was a really good game and I’m proud of our guys. They were resilient and played really well. Take away the knee at the end of the game and we have 500 yards of offense, and our defense held them to around 300. I thought we played a solid football game.”
The Gamecocks won their final home game of the season with this victory against ACU. JSU will now travel to Beaumont, Texas next Saturday, Nov. 13 to battle the Cardinals of Lamar University. Kick off at Provost Umphrey Stadium is set for 4 p.m. The game will be available to stream on ESPN+. JSU then finishes the season with another road matchup against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Nov. 20.
“It means a lot. Over the course of the years that I’ve been here, I’ve broken a lot of records. I’m just happy to be in a situation where I’m more successful than I’ve ever been. I give credit to my coaches and teammates. I broke it and they broke it with me, so we all broke it,” Zerrick Cooper said, when speaking about breaking the JSU record for touchdowns responsible for.