Apr. 18—JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State's football season stretched over three of four seasons of the year paid off in a national seed in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
JSU will carry the No. 4 seed and open the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at home, against Davidson.
The Gamecocks learned their lot in the pandemic-reduced FCS playoff field today at a watch party in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
JSU will play host to Davidson on Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner will play the Delaware-Sacred Heart winner.
The FCS playoff field will have 16 teams, including 10 automatic qualifiers. JSU (9-2) qualified by winning the Ohio Valley Conference, while Davidson (4-2) is the champion of the Pioneer League, which is a non-scholarship, football-only league.
Only the top four teams were seeded this year instead of eight, as was typical in the pre-pandemic, 24-team field.
JSU's bracket includes No. 1 seed South Dakota State. The other national seeds were No. 2 Sam Houston State and No. 3 James Madison.
The No. 4 seed would mean JSU will play at least its first two playoff games at home. The Gamecocks would need South Dakota State to suffer an upset to play a semifinal.
JSU was the only team in the field to play nine game this season, which included four games in the fall and seven OVC games in the spring with a winter break. The OVC postponed its conference season until the spring but allowed its member teams to play non-conference games.
While most FCS teams opted out of fall football, JSU played four games, losing 41-24 to Football Bowl Subdivision member Florida State but beating FBS member Florida International 19-10. The Gamecocks wrapped two FBS opponents around victories over Mercer and North Alabama.
JSU carried the No. 9 ranking in the most recent STATS Perform FCS poll, but JSU athletics director Greg Seitz called the Gamecocks' No. 4 national seed "much deserved."
"When you look at the resume of Jacksonville State, we've got nine wins," said Seitz, a former selection-committee member. "We have the only FBS win of any other school that's in FCS this year.
"From the committee standpoint, I think we were rewarded for the 9-2 record and the FBS win."
JSU coach John Grass said the victory at FIU was crucial for JSU's national seed, because of how the spring season played out. While JSU won the OVC outright, the Gamecocks suffered a 13-10 loss to Austin Peay,
JSU wound up needing the FIU game on their resume. That JSU lead Florida State deep into the third quarter didn't hurt, either.
"Without that, you don't get a top seed, with a loss in conference," Grass said. "If we run the table in conference, we may have gotten a seed anyway, but stubbing our toe in the Austin Peay game, the fall came into play.
"The win over an FBS team in FIU and playing as well as we did against Florida State, one of the two losses being to a Power 5 team, I think helps."
To play in the fall and spring, JSU has come through the rigors of COVID-19 testing and protocols to stay on the field. The Gamecocks have also fought through a season's worth of injuries, including losing six starters on a defense that has remained dominant.
JSU also lost record-setting quarterback Zerrick Cooper to a broken leg in the FIU game. Zion Webb replaced Cooper and led JSU to victory at FIU.
Webb has spent the spring developing on the fly as a first-time starter. He rebounded from a five-turnover nightmare in the loss to Austin Peay to post quarterback ratings of 181.3 and 139.2 in victories at Eastern Illinois and Murray State, the game JSU had to win to clinch the OVC title and an automatic playoff berth.
Webb had one turnover, a fumble, in those two games. He hasn't thrown an interception since throwing four against Austin Peay.
JSU is the only team in the field to go through a season's worth of injuries and developing players at key positions on the fly.
"Our guys wanted to play in the fall, and those games we played in the fall helped us get this four seed, but it also told you a lot about our team," Grass said. "It just bonded us and put this team together to navigate all of this and play in the fall.
"The only team on that board that had nine wins, really over six wins, is us, and to play that many games."
2021 FCS playoffs
(All times Central)
Holy Cross (3-0) at No. 1 South Dakota State (5-1), 2 p.m.
Southern Illinois (5-3) at Weber State (5-0), 3 p.m.
Sacred Heart (3-1) at Delaware (5-0), 6 p.m.
Davidson (4-2) at No. 4 Jacksonville State (9-2), 1 p.m.
VMI (6-1) at No. 3 James Madison (5-0), 1 p.m.
Missouri State (5-4) at North Dakota (4-1), 3 p.m.
Eastern Washington (5-1) at North Dakota State (6-2), 2:30 p.m.
Monmouth (3-0) at No. 2 Sam Houston State (6-0), 11 a.m.
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.