Mark Edwards: In JSU's last year in the OVC, the league belongs to them

Mark Edwards, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

Mar. 21—JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State Gamecocks are so versatile this football season that even the person in charge of music at JSU Stadium can bring heat.

At one point in JSU's 21-3 win over Southeast Missouri, the game officials reviewed Josh Samuel's 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown. As the officials tried to determine if Samuel had stepped out of bounds during a tip-toe down the sideline, the stadium music man dug up "Let It Be" by the Beatles.

Ultimately, the officials let it be, allowing Samuel's touchdown to stand.

The thing is, it didn't really matter. Take it away or let it be — the Gamecocks are strong enough that they didn't have to have Samuel's touchdown to win on this day.

This is a strong football team. The Gamecocks are good on defense, offense and special teams. They can run the ball and stop the run. They make some turnovers, but they make their opponents make more.

The defense is strong from front to back, and so is the offense.

This is JSU's final year in the Ohio Valley Conference, and at this point, can you imagine anyone else in the league winning the championship? OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche can't be relishing the thought of handing over one more trophy to a school with one foot out the door.

Certainly, it would be a civil exchange, but if she had to present more hardware to head coach John Grass and athletics director Greg Seitz, it wouldn't be a happy obligation for the commissioner.

JSU (4-0 in the league) still has a potential dip in the road. Murray State is also 4-0.

The Racers survived three straight games by a combined 12 points before handling Tennessee State on Sunday. JSU will wrap up the regular season with a game at Murray on April 11.

Still, they'll have to beat a well-constructed and deep football team.

The Gamecocks have had to survive a revolving door at some positions, but even when they have to plug in another guy, they still thrive.

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper had refined his game and cut down on mistakes, but he broke his leg in October. Enter Zion Webb, who has managed the offense as well as Grass could've hoped. He's an improved passer, too.

The offensive line is a strength, led by tackle Michael Shaddix ... who wasn't available Saturday because of an ankle injury.

No matter, the Gamecocks are still thriving.

At tight end, Landon Rice didn't return from the team after the fall. Trae Barry has missed two games with a knee injury.

No matter, the Gamecocks are still thriving.

Defensively, JSU has lost marquee players this year such as cornerback Yul Gowdy and still rolled.

On Sunday, they were without nickelback Kolbi Fuqua (ankle) and linebacker Zack Woodard, who left the team because he is working an internship about 40 to 50 hours a week, which he needs to graduate. (Grass said later that he and Woodard have spoken about this for a while and that he is supporting Woodard 100 percent.)

Cornerback Jacquez Payton got knocked silly midway through the game when he collided with a teammate. He was sent to the sideline.

No matter, the Gamecocks are still thriving.

The Gamecocks allowed only a field goal to a team that scored 42 and 47 points against OVC teams this year. The squirrel that invaded the turf at one point Saturday crossed the goal line more than SEMO did.

How about this for an example of how good they are on defense this year? JSU had four sacks to SEMO's zero and compiled 10 quarterback hurries to two for the visitors. For the season, JSU has 52 quarterback hurries while allowing only 10. It's important to affect the quarterback, even if you don't sack him, and JSU is affecting the quarterback.

On special teams, punter Preston Knight didn't return after the fall season. JSU has had to break in a new punter (freshman Jack Dawson) as well as a new long-snapper (freshman Thomas Peterson).

No matter, the Gamecocks ... well, you get the point.

It all adds up to the OVC's best team. Then again, that's what the Gamecocks usually are. It's hard to imagine any league coach being disappointed in any way at JSU leaving for the ASUN Conference.

As for Gamecocks, with Grass having returned them to their typical standard after two less-than-stellar seasons, they're ready for a new challenge ... likely with another trophy to serve as a going-away present.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.