JSU finally brought an end to their road slump over the weekend.
The No. 18 Gamecocks (5-2, 2-1) won at Eastern Illinois 28-20 this past Saturday, earning their first away win of the season in Charleston, Ill.
Jacksonville State, as has been a trend in this season, allowed their opponent to score first. The Panthers (0-7, 0-3) got on the board midway through the first quarter on a 25-yard pass from Harry Woodbery to Isaiah Hill.
Eastern Illinois’s 7-0 advantage did not last long. Veteran quarterback Zerrick Cooper led his offense down the field and capped off a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Josh Pearson to tie it up. Through one quarter, it was a 7-7 ballgame.
The second quarter belonged to the Gamecocks. KJ Stepherson caught a touchdown in his third straight game as a 19-yard pass from Cooper to him wound up being a score.
Following a couple failed drives, JSU was able to add another score before halftime. With just under two minutes left in the second, Michael Matthews barreled in from three yards out. Midway through the game it was 21-7.
EIU was down but not out. A slow third quarter heated up with around four minutes to play when EIU’s Jaelin Benefield crossed the goal-line on a three-yard run.
The uncomfortable feeling for JSU fans got only worse in the early fourth, as Isaiah Hill burst a 10-yard run. His score, followed by a missed extra point, made it 21-20.
Despite nearly losing their lead, Jacksonville State found a way to pull it out. Cooper’s third touchdown pass of the day came in a crucial situation, as he found Josh Pearson for the 39-yard strike. The 28-20 score would stand as the final.
The big game for Cooper comes as no surprise. A transfer from Clemson that has shredded OVC defenses for two years now, Cooper passed for 237 yards and three touchdowns against Eastern Illinois. Running back Michael Matthews added a touchdown and 92 yards on 15 carries.
Josh Pearson caught five passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns, whereas Jamari Hester recorded nine catches for 99 yards. KJ Stepherson finished with three receptions for 40 yards and a score.
The win gives Jacksonville State their fifth of the season and their second in conference play. The only Ohio Valley team to beat JSU is Austin Peay and they sit tied atop the rankings with Tennessee-Martin.
The Gamecocks are third in the standings with a 2-1 record.
Up next for JSU is Homecoming this weekend. The Gamecocks will head back home to play host to long-time conference foe Southeast Missouri State. The Redhawks (3-3, 1-1) are tied for fifth in the conference standings after losing at Austin Peay 28-24 last week.
Kickoff from Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 as well as the JSU Radio Network.