The Jacksonville State Gamecocks picked up one of their biggest wins in recent history on Saturday night.
The No. 16 Gamecocks defended their home turf, and, thanks to a 21-point fourth quarter comeback, defeated No. 5 Eastern Washington 49-45.
Early on, though, it was all Eagles. After scoring on the opening kickoff, forcing a turnover, and making the Gamecocks punt, Eastern Washington led 28-7 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, a Marlin Bridges pick-six made it a 28-14 ballgame. Soon after, Zerrick Cooper converted his second touchdown pass of the game on a 9-yard scoring toss to Josh Pearson. Suddenly, it was a one score game.
Unfortunately, EWU would add another score before halftime. At the break, the visiting Eagles held a 35-21 advantage.
Quickly into the second it would decrease. JSU scored on a toss from Cooper to running back Michael Matthews from 19 yards out. Sadly, the Gamecock offense stalled and allowed EWU to score 10 consecutive points to close out the third. 45-28 was the score headed into the final interval.
Then the real show started. On the first play of he fourth quarter, Cooper showed off his speed on a 15-yard burst into the end zone. The former Clemson Tiger might have served as the catalyst of the rally, but he was not alone. Jacksonville State’s defense stood tall, partially blocked a punt, and got their offense the ball back with fantastic field-position.
On a short field, Matthews dashed in from the three. Suddenly, it was a 45-42 game with 5:55 left to play.
Then came the drive. After a punt, JSU had the ball with 4:38 left to play at their own 27 yard line.
Masterfully, Cooper drove the Gamecocks down the field. He completed crucial passes to Pearson for 29 yards and Trae Barry for 19 yards. The 11 play, 73-yard drive was capped off on a 1-yard score by Matthews on third-and-goal. With 59 seconds left to play, JSU had their first lead of the game: 49-45.
Moments later, JSU Yul Gowdy picked off an Eastern Washington pass to seal the victory. The win over No. 5 EWU was the highest-ranked opponent to be beaten by Jacksonville State since 2002; the comeback also marked the first time since the historic 2010 Ole Miss upset that the Gamecocks overcame a 21-point deficit and won.
The absolute classic was shown in front of 20,901 lucky yet dedicated fans who waited through a lightning delay that postponed kickoff for 35 minutes.
Jacksonville State Head Coach John Grass said, “I’m very proud of our guys for beating a quality team. Eastern Washington is every bit of a top-five team that can play with anyone in the county. We proved we can too, but we still have a lot of growing up to do.
“I told them it’s a long game and we’ve just got to keep chipping away at it,” said Grass. “We felt like we were just (shooting ourselves in the foot), but I just told them to keep playing and don’t get down. That’s why I’m so proud of our guys- it was just really good to see us keep fighting.”
Cooper led the Gamecock offense on the day in rushing and passing. He completed 14 passes for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception. Cooper added 88 yards and a score on the ground as well.
Despite rushing for a mere 13 yards, Matthews’ two touchdowns were key in the JSU comeback.
All-OVC safety Marlon Bridges recorded 9 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, one sack, a forced fumble, and a 67-yard interception returned for a touchdown. The Redshirt-Senior from Lanett, Al., was an integral part in slowing down the veteran Eagle offense
Up next for JSU is next Saturday’s home game against North Alabama. The Lions are one of the most recent teams to make the jump from Division II to FCS. JSU and UNA were longtime Gulf South Conference rivals in Division II, where the Gamecocks held a 25-18-3 series lead over the Lions during that stretch.
This year’s matchup will be the first with both teams being FCS members. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET/6 CT and the game will be televised on ESPN+.