Story and photo courtesy of Jacksonville State Athletics
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – For the second time this season the outcome of a Jacksonville State game rested on right foot on junior placekicker Griffin Thomas.
And for the second time, the junior from Snellville, Ga., delivered in a clutch situation.
Thomas kicked a 44-yard field goal in the first overtime to lift the Gamecocks to a 31-28 win over No. 17 and previously unbeaten Tennessee State before a crowd of 14,867 at Burgess-Snow Field and a national television audience on Saturday.
Head coach Jack Crowe earned his 85th win at Jacksonville State, surpassing Bill Burgess for second place among Gamecock coaches.
“We may have been out-performed, but when you win you didn't get out-played,” said Crowe. “I thought we did the gutsy stuff to win. I am happy for Griffin Thomas.”
Jacksonville State (4-3, 3-2 Ohio Valley Conference) took advantage of costly mistakes by the Tigers in the waning seconds of regulation and on their possession in overtime.
Tennessee State's Jamin Godfrey was lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt with four seconds in regulation. His kick split the uprights, but TSU was flagged for a false start, pushing the Tigers back five yards. Godfrey instead was forced to try a 47-yarder that fell wide right, sending the game into OT.
TSU (7-1, 3-1) had first possession in overtime and quickly drove to 13 yards to the Gamecocks 12. With his team seemingly in position for a chip-shot field goal, Tigers quarterback Michael German got sacked for a 13-yard loss by JSU defensive end Mikel Whittier on third down.
“I thought the most impressive thing we did during the game was that we put pressure on their quarterback,” said Crowe. “That's pretty special.”
That brought on Godfrey for another 42-yard attempt, which this time sailed wide left.
Runs by Washaun Ealey then moved Jacksonville State to the TSU 18.
But Coty Blanchard, in the game after starting quarterback Marques Ivory was forced out with a hamstring injury, was sacked for a nine-yard loss to make Thomas' field goal attempt more difficult.
Turned out to be no problem. Thomas, who beat Chattanooga with a 37-yard field goal as time expired on Sept. 8, kicked the 44-yarder with ease to keep the Gamecocks alive in the OVC race.
Tennessee State accumulated 302 first-half yards to take a 21-14 lead at intermission.
The Gamecocks, however, answered with two touchdowns in the third quarter, an 8-yard run by Ealey and a 2-yard scramble by Blanchard that put JSU ahead 28-21 with 3:08 left in the third.
The Tigers drew even again with 9:20 left in the fourth.
German, who threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns, finished off a nine-play, 70-yard scoring march with an 11-yard toss to Travis James. Godfrey's extra point made it 28-all, the third tie of the game.
Tennessee State's final drive in regulation took 14 plays and consumed the final 5:46.
Troymaine Pope – who later left with an injury – gave the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead with a 2-yard TD run on their first drive of the game. His run completed a 46-yard drive set up by freshman cornerback Jermaine Hough's first career interception.
Ealey caught a 44-yard pass from Ivory early in the second quarter and Thomas tacked on the extra point to give JSU a 14-7 lead, the last time it led until Blanchard's scramble for TD late in the third.
Ealey finished with a hard-fought 122 yards on 33 carries and also caught five passes for 82 yards.
But the Tigers scored two touchdowns in a 2:25 span midway through the second quarter – the first a 25-yard pass to James from German, followed by a 42-yard run by Trabis Ware for a 21-14 lead they held onto until halftime.
The Gamecocks entertain Murray State next Saturday for homecoming. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.