If the Jacksonville State Gamecocks came into Saturday’s FCS semifinal matchup with the Sam Houston State Bearkats not thinking about getting revenge, they didn’t do a good job of showing it.
Eli Jenkins threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns, and Troymaine Pope ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns as Jacksonville State beat the Bearkats 62-10 to advance to the FCS national championship for the first time in school history, where the Gamecocks will meet the four-time defending national champion North Dakota State Bison.
The Gamecocks tweeted about the victory after Jacksonville State outgained Sam Houston State 639-259:
The 62 points were the most ever scored by a member of the Ohio Valley Conference in the postseason, according to the Gamecocks.
Jacksonville State came into Saturday's matchup looking to avenge a 37-26 loss to the Bearkats last year in the FCS playoffs. The Gamecocks were shut out in the second half of that game, and Jenkins’ two interceptions ended their season sooner than anyone expected.
There wouldn’t be any chance of an upset this year.
The Gamecocks jumped on the Bearkats early, and it started on the opening kickoff. Hayden Cagle fumbled, and Jacksonville State recovered at the SHSU 31-yard line. On the next play, Jenkins hit receiver Josh Barge for a 28-yard gain that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Jenkins to help give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead.
FCS Football provided a replay of Jenkins' opening score:
That would be a theme for the rest of the first quarter.
In addition to the fumble on the opening kickoff, Sam Houston State turned the ball over on its next two possessions. The second turnover of the game came when quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe was hit from behind and coughed it up on the Jacksonville State 15-yard line.
Five plays later, Pope picked up where he left off last week in the quarterfinals. He took a handoff between the left guard and tackle and went untouched for 62 yards to help give the Gamecocks a 14-0 lead.
Pope, who had 250 yards and three touchdowns against Charleston Southern in the quarterfinals, scored a touchdown in his eighth straight game. The last time he was kept out of the end zone was Oct. 17 against Tennessee Tech.
Utah radio personality Brad James commented on Pope's big run:
Briscoe put the ball on the turf on the next possession after Darius Jackson sacked him, which led to a Jacksonville State field goal for a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
The Gamecocks receivers were too physical for SHSU. Jacksonville State receiver Ruben Gonzalez used his 6’3” frame to gain separation on multiple slant routes. One of those resulted in a 15-yard touchdown catch that helped give the Gamecocks a 31-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Jenkins became the all-time program leader in total yards in the first half, according to Chris Allen Brown of the Anniston Star:
Nothing materialized for Sam Houston State on offense until the five-minute, 37-second mark in the second quarter, but at the expense of another SHSU fumble. This time, the Bearkats recovered in the end zone to help make it a 31-7 game. It was too little, too late by that point.
Jacksonville State’s defense proved to be too much for SHSU to handle. The Gamecocks sacked Briscoe four times, and he also threw a pick to Rashod Byers, which set up Pope’s second touchdown of the day and a 41-7 lead for the Gamecocks. That score gave Pope his third straight multitouchdown game, his sixth of the year.
There’s no better way to determine the best team in FCS play than by getting the two best teams together Jan. 9 in Frisco, Texas. This will be the first time since 1989 that North Dakota State and Jacksonville State will meet in postseason play and the first time ever that they’re meeting for a national championship.
Jacksonville State has imposed its dominance all season long. Only three FCS games it has played this year have been decided by single digits. But the Gamecocks haven’t faced a team like the four-time defending champs. This is sure to be a game for the ages.