PRIDE MATTERS: Loss to Austin Peay motivated JSU's Webb to redeem himself

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Mark Edwards, The Anniston Star, Ala.
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Apr. 22—JACKSONVILLE — When Jacksonville State fell at home this football season to Austin Peay, John Grass told his team that all the loss hurt was their pride.

And maybe nobody's pride hurt more than that of Zion Webb, the starting quarterback. In the 13-10 loss, Webb threw four interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one.

JSU still could take the Ohio Valley Conference championship by winning its remaining two regular-season games, but Webb took the loss so hard "it brought tears to my eyes."

"I'm not a good loser," he said. "I actually sat in the locker room about an hour afterward, just didn't even get undressed. It hurt me so bad. I just had to redeem myself. After that game, I made up my mind that nothing was going to stop me. It was an eye-opener for me."

He redeemed himself in a big way with sterling play in those last two games, pacing the Gamecocks to two victories and an OVC crown. His play is one of the reasons the Gamecocks are quietly confident they can make some noise in the FCS playoffs. JSU (9-2) will host Davidson (4-2) on Saturday in the opening round of the 16-team tournament.

"He'll be the first to tell you he did not play well against Austin Peay," Grass said. "He took that loss hard. He felt he let his team down. That Monday, I immediately saw a difference. He flipped the switch mentally."

The following week in a 44-23 win over Eastern Illinois, Webb put together his best game of the season. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Then in a must-win game at Murray State, Webb rushed for 65 yards and two touchdowns and completed 17 of 29 for 229 yards and another score as JSU took a 28-14 victory and clinched the OVC title.

Most importantly, he didn't throw a single interception in either game.

"The Austin Peay game, I really didn't have a good week of practice because of personal reasons, but I can't make excuses," he said. "I can't be a selfish guy. So, I just locked in and honed in and basically just did the extra work that could help me get prepared the next two games."

It wasn't an easy season before the Austin Peay game. He had one week in which he fell ill and couldn't practice much. It also was an odd season because the pandemic pushed the OVC football schedule to the fall.

In addition, he was dealing with being the starting quarterback for the first season. He wound up leading the league in passing efficiency and was the fourth straight JSU starting quarterback to make first-team All-OVC.

"I take my hat off to Zion," Grass said. "He's played extremely well this spring and got better every week. I was glad he made all-conference. He was very deserving of that. He's done what he had to do to win."

Again, that Austin Peay loss cost Webb some pride, but Grass said he's come out of it a better quarterback.

"He flipped that switch and you could see a huge difference in the last two weeks," Grass said. "I think if he plays that way in the playoffs, I like our chances against whoever we play."

Has Webb ever stopped to take a moment and pat himself on the back for the way he rebounded from the Austin Peay loss?

"Not as much as some other people would," he said with a smile.

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