JSU 37, UTM 20: Three things we learned from JSU's victory at UT-Martin

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Joe Medley, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·6 min read
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Mar. 14—MARTIN, Tenn. — Jacksonville State started its Ohio Valley Conference football game at Tennessee-Martin on Sunday in 2019 gear.

Then the 10th-ranked team in Football Championship Subdivision football found its 2020-21 gear.

JSU awoke for 20 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes of the second quarter and never looked back, winning 37-20 in a game soaked with penalties and sprinkled with a crazy play or two.

The Gamecocks upped to 6-1 overall, 3-0 OVC

The game will go down in memory for the crazy kickoff that came after JSU's third touchdown in a nine-minute, 19-second span of the second quarter.

JSU's Alen Karajic, having just seen Martin's Korbin Harmon block an extra point on what to that point had been the worst day of Karajic's brief JSU career, blasted a line-drive kickoff. It hit Martin front-liner Takeem Young's face mask, becoming a live ball, and bounced all the way back to JSU's 14-yard line.

"I saw it, and I was like, 'Oh gosh, that's not supposed to happen,'" Karajic said. "I saw it fly back, and I heard everyone (on the sideline) yell, 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Karajic, a former soccer striker who didn't play football until his senior year of high school, ran it down and celebrated the legal use of his hands by making the first fumble recovery of his career.

"Usually, I always say, if I have to use my hands, something bad happened," Karajic said with a laugh. "Obviously, something good happened, so it was pretty nice."

JSU ball, and the Gamecocks ran out the final 1:34 of the second quarter and took a 20-10 lead into halftime after trailing 10-0.

"I have never seen anything like that before," JSU coach John Grass said. "The officials talked to me after the half, and I didn't know about this. That ball goes into the end zone — and I'm going to have to research this myself — they told me that would've been a safety on us.

"I've got to clarify that rule to see if that's right, because they've never seen it, either. It was a bizarre play."

Here are three things we learned:

1. JSU still has a 2019 streak

The first 20 minutes of Sunday's game, carrying into the second quarter, saw JSU's worst football since its 6-6 meltdown in 2019.

The Gamecocks had one first down and 27 total yards in its first three possessions.

"It wasn't anything just major," Grass said. "We had a couple of snap problems. They called our snap count and had trouble adjusting to that."

JSU reached nine penalties for 104 yards, including safety Nicario Harper's ejection for targeting, before Martin saw its first penalty.

A personal foul on Josh Wegener after Dave Russell III adjusted for Zion Webb's back-shoulder throw and took it 67 yards to the UTM 3 doomed JSU to no points. Karajic missed the 38-yard field goal wide right.

How can JSU get more 2019 than that?

JSU finished with 129 yards on 12 penalties, and UTM ran up 95 yards on eight flags.

Quan Charleston muffed a punt, JSU's second muff in as many games, to set up Tyler Larco's 21-yard field goal.

Grass acknowledged "I've got to do a better job of getting us ready to play," but he sees good that can come of it.

"I wanted to see this bunch, maybe not this way, but have to face some adversity and see how they responded," he said. "I was very excited about how we responded to adversity on the road, get down by a 10-0 score and you have to find a way to make some plays the turn the game around."

2. Back to the present

The JSU team that led Florida State deep into the third quarter and beat Football Bowl Subdivision member Florida International in the fall, then toyed with then-FCS No. 23 Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State in the first two games of a pandemic-delayed spring conference season, returned.

The Gamecocks got it going with 20 unanswered points. Jaylen Swain's strip sack of John Bachus III and D.J. Coleman's recovery after Karajic's field goal miss set up Josh Samuels' 4-yard touchdown run.

"It was a team effort," Swain said. "I felt like we needed to make a big play."

Webb tossed touchdown passes of six yards to Russell and 39 to Ahmad Edwards. Those scores spanned from 10:53-1:34 of the second quarter and put JSU up 20-10.

Woke JSU broke UTM and dominated the second half, rendering the game's first 20 minutes as distant and unwanted a memory as 2019.

"We just had to take to each other and communicate more and just let each other know we had each other's back, calm down," Webb said. "Once we did that, and everybody understood what they had to do to do their job, we came together as a team."

Webb hit Mike Pettway for a 14-yard touchdown pass at 6:31 of the third quarter to make it three touchdown passes two games in a row. Webb threw three at Tennessee State.

A week after throwing for 280 yards at TSU, Webb threw for 215 Of JSU's 422 total yards at UTM.

The passing game "is going," Webb said. "Those guys have confidence in me to get them the ball, and I've got confidence in those guys to catch the ball."

Karajic added a 25-yard field goal at 12:31 of the fourth quarter, and Uriah West' 5-yard touchdown run with 2:18 to play provided the final margin.

3. Trae Barry still not back

All-American tight end Trae Barry did not make the trip to Martin, marking the second game in a row he's missed since playing JSU's fall opener against Tennessee Tech.

Asked about Barry's status Tuesday, Grass said the staff would have meetings about Barry's status. Asked after JSU's victory at Tennessee State game last week, Grass cited a minor knee injury but said Barry should return for the Martin game.

Braydon Hill started for the second week in a row at tight end.

Russell's 107 receiving yards on five catches marked JSU's first 100-yard receiving game since Barry's 104 at North Alabama in the fall.

"I think Trae will be back next week," Grass said. "He practiced a little bit this week. I think he'll be back this next week."

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.