It might have been the biggest game in Jacksonville State history, as Kevin Scarbinsky wrote for AL.com, and it turned into one of the biggest routs in FCS playoff history.
The Gamecocks hammered Sam Houston State 62-10 on Dec. 19, 2015, scoring on seven of their first eight possessions to reach their first FCS championship game.
“I don’t think we could have played much better,” second-year head coach John Grass said after the game. “The first half was probably the best half of football I’ve ever been around.
“We put ourselves in a position to win a national championship and that’s right where we want to be. We’re proud to be representing the Ohio Valley Conference and we’re going to bring the national championship back home.”
Jacksonville State was the first OVC team to play for the FCS championship since Eastern Kentucky in 1982, but the Gamecocks did not bring home a national championship.
Carson Wentz, who went on to be the second player selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, led North Dakota State to a 37-10 victory against the No. 1-ranked Gamecocks. It was the Bison’s fifth consecutive national championship and 20th postseason win in a row.
JSU won the NCAA Division II football championship in 1992 and could have become the first to win titles in Division I and II.
But the championship game loss does not diminish the sports moment judged the greatest in JSU history. The Gamecocks tied a school record with 41 points in the first half against Sam Houston State for their 13th victory of the season.
“If we played them 10 times, we might beat them twice,” Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler said after the game.
Troymaine Pope rushed for 182 yards and one touchdown, extending his school record for single-season rushing to 1,757 yards. With 31 yards against North Dakota State, he set the OVC single-season record with 1,788 yards.
Quarterback Eli Jenkins threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns and ran for three TDs against Sam Houston State. He also passed former Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo (8,059) for eighth on the all-time list in career total offense (8,212).
And with 121 yards receiving, Josh Barge broke the school’s career record.
JSU also avenged a 37-26 loss to Sam Houston State in the second round of the 2014 FCS playoffs.
“The coaches have been talking about Frisco (Texas, site of the FCS title game) since we lost to Sam Houston State last year,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been preparing for this day.”
Added Glass, “We lived losing to them for over a year now, and you can live with that if you played your best, but we knew we didn’t play our best last year and that’s hard to swallow.
“This bunch has been hungry and driven every day. They wanted to get back and have another opportunity.”
Another opportunity may await this season.
Jenkins, the Gamecocks’ second-leading rusher in 2015, and Barge are back for the senior seasons. They’re already preparing for another day.
Middle and on the cover: Troymaine Pope rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Jacksonville State’s 62-10 rout of Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals. (Courtesy JSU Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: High Point and Hofstra
• Tuesday: Holy Cross and Houston
• Wednesday: Houston Baptist and Illinois Chicago (UIC)
• Thursday: Incarnate Word (UIW) and Jacksonville State
• Friday: James Madison