Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern athletics.
JACKSONVILLE, AL. — Top-ranked Jacksonville State exploded for 45 points and 425 yards after halftime Friday night to earn its first trip to the FCS semifinals next week.
Troymaine Pope rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns and quarterback Eli Jenkins ran for 195 yards and scored twice as the Gamecocks shook free from stubborn Charleston Southern to claim a 58-38 quarterfinal victory in the NCAA Division I Football Championships before a crowd of 22,797 at Burgess-Snow Field.
Jacksonville State (12-1) awaits the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup between Colgate and Sam Houston State. Kickoff will either be Friday at 7 p.m. or next Saturday at 3 p.m. with the game televised on ESPNU.
“You go up three scores and think you have the game in hand, but you give up a big kickoff return and they’re right back down there to score and it’s back to a 10-point game again,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “You just couldn’t put them away, which says a lot about the team’s character and heart, but it was definitely big of us to answer. We give up a kickoff return, they get it into the end zone, and then we turn right back around to answer, I think that was huge and showed a lot of poise out of our guys.”
Charleston Southern (10-3) saw the best season in school history come to an end as Jacksonville State scored tallied 597 yards of offense to pull away.
The Gamecocks are the first OVC representative to advance to the FCS semifinals since Eastern Kentucky in 1991.
No. 7 Charleston Southern entered the night having not allowed any opponent – including FBS No. 2 Alabama – to rush for more than 200 yards.
The Bucs trailed only 13-10 at halftime, was behind by three midway through the third quarter, and had the football down ten late in the fourth, but could not find an answer for JSU’s rushing attack. The Gamecocks totaled 506 yards on the ground and had four touchdown runs of 44 yards or more.
“They’ve got a heck of a team,” Buccaneer coach Jamey Chadwell said. “I’m proud of my football team for the fight that they showed. They kept striking, kept swinging, until the very end, but we dug us a hole we couldn’t get out of. That’s a credit to JSU. I told (Coach Grass) to go win the whole thing. They’re the most talented team we’ve played all year in FCS.”
CSU suffered its first FCS loss of the year, a defeat that snapped a streak of 12 straight wins dating back to last year.
Chadwell, who has won 28 games in his first three seasons and a school-record 10 games twice, was quick to point out what CSU had accomplished, despite the loss.
“It’s a special group,” Chadwell said. “They’re really good football players, but even better people. They forever changed the perception of what Charleston Southern is, and that’s pretty special.”
Chadwell didn’t want to quit talking about what impact his players had.
“What these players have done for this university and putting Charleston Southern on the national map,” Chadwell added. “Not a lot of people knew about us and I’m thankful for the journey they took us on. I didn’t want it to end this way but I’m proud of our team and the way we represented our school and the Big South Conference.”
Pope became JSU’s all-time single-season rushing leader with 1,576 yards, surpassing the mark of 1,477 yards previously held by DeMarcus James (2013).
Jenkins, meanwhile, eclipsed Montressa Kirby’s school record for total offense and now stands at 7,922 yards for his career.
A national TV audience and the second-largest crowd in school history saw what had been a defensive battle evolve into a shootout in the second half. But Jacksonville State had the most weapons, scoring three touchdowns in a span of 13 minutes, 27 seconds to extend its lead to 34-17 entering the final quarter.
The Buccaneers closed the deficit to 10 points twice in the fourth quarter. But Connor Rouleau tacked on a late field goal and Pope finished his night with a 54-yard run with 2:16 remaining for the game’s final points.
The Gamecocks led 13-10 at intermission behind Jenkins’ 14-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Screws and a pair of Rouleau field goals.
Jacksonville State’s offense wasted little time scoring after the defense forced Charleston Southern to punt on the game’s opening series.
JSU took over at the Buccaneers 40 following a 13-yard kick and needed just seven plays to cover the distance. Jenkins scrambled twice to move the Gamecocks inside the red zone, then finished off the scoring drive with a strike to a diving Screws in the back of the end zone.
Rouleau’s extra point gave Jacksonville State a 7-0 lead at the 10:38 mark in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers trailed 10-0 after the Gamecocks’ second series. Jacksonville State drove 43 yards in 11 plays, settling for a 35-yard field goal by Rouleau with 6 minutes remaining in the first.
Charleston Southern answered with a field goal of its own, a 24-yarder by David Kennedy to draw to within 10-3 late in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers drew even at 10-10 midway through the second quarter on Mike Hollway’s 1-yard to cap a 63-yard drive.
Rouleau’s second field goal of the night, a 38-yarder, sent Jacksonville State to the locker room with a 13-10 lead at halftime.
Jacksonville State finished with 597 total yards. Charleston Southern had 375 total yards and also returned nine kickoffs for 335 yards.
The Buccaneers got a Big South record 285 kickoff return yards from junior Darius Hammond to stay in the game. He had returns of 84 and 60 yards to set up short CSU touchdown drives in the second half and averaged 36.9 yards on eight returns.
Hammond and backfield mate Mike Holloway both pushed the 100-yard mark in the game. Hammond had 91 rushing yards and Holloway added 92 to go with a rushing touchdown apiece.
Quarterback Kyle Copeland, who jump-started the offense in the second quarter, added a third rushing TD for CSU. He was 8-of-10 through the air for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Both TD passes were 21-yard strikes, one to Nathan Perera and the other to Kenny Dinkins as the Bucs cut the lead to 10 twice in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.
Pope and Jenkins proved to be too much for CSU. Pope ripped off a 76-yard run on the opening possession of third quarter to extend the lead to 20-10. An 83-yard run touchdown run and two more long TD dashes from Pope ended CSU hopes during a second half that featured 73 points.
The winner of next week’s semifinal advances to the FCS Championship Game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 9.
· JSU captains: Senior linebacker Brandon Bender, senior linebacker Dawson Wells, senior offensive lineman Adam Wright and junior receiver Dalton Screws.
· Jacksonville State won the opening coin toss. It’s the 11th time in 13 games this season the Gamecocks have won the toss. JSU is 10-1 when winning the toss this season.
· During the first quarter, JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins broke Montressa Kirby’s school record for career total offense (7,688). Jenkins now has 7,922 total yards in his career after rolling up 286 yards (91 passing, 195 rushing) on Friday.
· During the third quarter, quarterback Eli Jenkins scored the longest rushing touchdown of his three-year career on an 83-yard read-option keeper. It’s the longest rushing score in Jax State postseason history.
· Early in the third quarter, running back Troymaine Pope scored on a 76-yard run, which is the longest rushing scoring play of his career.
· Troymaine Pope finished with 250 rushing yards on 16 carries. It’s the 12th time he’s gone over the century mark in his career. JSU is 12-0 when he reaches the 100-yard mark. It was his second 200-yard game and his second in as many weeks after he ran for 234 yards last week vs. UTC.
· With Pope finishing with 250 rushing yards and Jenkins with 195, it’s the first time since 2012 Charleston Southern has allowed two 100-plus yard rushers.
· Jax State’s 58-38 win is the 12th victory for the Gamecocks on the season. It’s the first time JSU has won 12 games in a season since 1992, when the Gamecocks won the Division II National Championship with a 12-1-1 record.
· JSU advances to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs for the first time. The last time JSU made the semifinals was in 1992 following a 14-12 win over North Alabama in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs.
· Eli Jenkins finished with 195 rushing yards on 21 carries, tying his career high in rushing yards one week after he ran for 195 against Chattanooga.
· With his 250 rushing yards, Troymaine Pope breaks DaMarcus James‘ single-season rushing record of 1,477 yards set in 2013. Pope now has 1,576 on the season, which is the seventh most in Ohio Valley Conference history.
· JSU finished with 597 yards of total offense, which is the eight time the Gamecocks have gone over 500 yards during the 2015 season – the most during one season in school history.
· Jax State finished with 506 rushing yards during the game, the most during a game this season and the second-most in school history.
· Kicker Connor Rouleau made three field goals (35, 38, and 38) during the game, which is the most made field goals in Jacksonville State postseason history.
· With the win, Jacksonville State becomes the first Ohio Valley Conference team to reach the FCS Semifinals since EKU in 1991.
· Troymaine Pope broke the JSU postseason rushing record, which he set last week at 234 yards as he finished with 250 yards. The 250 yards are the third-most in a game in school history.
· With the 12 wins in 2015, JSU becomes just the fourth team in Ohio Valley Conference history to win 12 games in a season.
· Jacksonville State extended its winning streak to 11 games, the longest active streak in FCS.
· The win by Jacksonville State is the first loss handed to Charleston Southern by a FCS team during the 2015 season. The Buccaneers are 0-3 vs. teams from Alabama after losing to Troy and Alabama during the regular season.
· The Gamecocks have now won four-straight games against ranked FCS foes and have won seven of their last eight. JSU is 7-1 vs. ranked FCS teams under John Grass.
· JSU is now 4-5 all-time in the FCS Playoffs and 19-14 in 33 NCAA Playoff games in school history.
JSU Head Coach John Grass Post-Game Quotes
“First off, I want to say thanks to our fans, what I great atmosphere. They were definitely the 12th man tonight, that’s for sure. Second of all, I want to say what a class act Jamey Chadwell and Charleston Southern are. They have a great program and do it the right way. I’m very proud of our staff and players for the way they represented the University. What a great night. It was a team-effort to get the job done tonight and we’re happy to be playing next week. It’s uncharted waters, because this University has never been in the semifinals at the FCS level, so what a great blessing it is to be playing next week. These guys continue to amaze me, and I’ve been saying that since the season started. They’ve been fun to watch and anyone who has seen them play can tell you that.”
On being the first OVC team to reach semifinals since 1991:
“There’s a lot of first for our school and any recognition this team gets, I’m so proud of this squad and that’s another one to add to the deal. We’ve waited over a year to have another chance to get back to this point in the season and we are very excited and not done playing.”
Troymaine Pope, SR, RB
On setting single-season rushing record:
“I’m just thankful and blessed. I’ve been praying about it all this time, and God finally delivered to me during my senior year. God gave me a second chance, so I just want to make the most of it.”
On JSU’s offensive performance:
“Coach (Jim) Ogle does a great job of calling plays of what he sees and what’s working. I could’ve thrown the ball, but they didn’t stop the run. I’m just making plays when my time is called.”
On all of JSU’s firsts:
“It’s just a great opportunity for the fans. We have a great fan base, so to be able to give them another week of being in this; we are just blessed to be in this situation. I just want to thank my teammates for just pushing on. We deserve this.”
Chris Landrum Sr.
On JSU’s student section:
“They had a big effect on the game. It was a great turnout. Coach Grass told us in the locker room to make sure we thank them, because the turnout we had tonight was amazing. They bring so much energy to our team, so we just want to say thank you to all the students and all the fans that came out to the game tonight.”