But in this case, trying too hard was too much.
Jacksonville State suffered its most bitter and potentially damaging Ohio Valley Conference loss of the season Saturday, 31-28 at Eastern Illinois in a game one might say the clock simply ran out on.
The Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2 OVC) were driving for a potential game-winning touchdown or game-tying field goal in the final 30 seconds. On what would be the final play of the game, Ivory escaped pressure multiple times from multiple directions and, with the clock winding down, twisted his body and fired.
He hoped it would have fallen out of bounds. An interception surely would have killed the Gamecocks. An incomplete pass might have saved them.
Instead, Washaun Ealey, trying to help his fifth-year quarterback, went up for the fluttering ball in traffic and made the catch. But he was too far from the sideline to get out of bounds, and the Gamecocks — without any timeouts — didn’t have enough time to kill the clock like they were able to do in set up a game-winning field goal against Chattanooga earlier this year.
“It was a very, very poor play by Marques,” Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said. “I don’t quite understand it except he’s a great competitor and he did so many great things out there today, but I think he’s got to be able to just be conservative sometimes.
“If we’d have thrown the ball away, I think we would’ve kicked the field goal and gone into overtime; I feel like maybe we’re a bettered zone team than they are.
“He’s aggressive with the ball and I’m never going to take that away from him. What I’ve got to do with Marques is make sure he realizes other guys carry some responsibility. I know this guy for five years and I just think he tried too hard.”
And then — as if he felt he had to say it — Crowe said Ivory will continue to be the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback.
It wasn’t a good day for Ivory. The senior was the victim of a career-high three interceptions. He also lost a fumble. Three of his turnovers, including one EIU junior cornerback Tavares Crawford returned 39 yards for a tying touchdown, came in the second quarter after the Gamecocks had opened a 14-0 lead.
He finished the day completing 14 of 26 passes for 160 yards. Coty Blanchard was 2-for-2 for 13 yards and a touchdown.
JSU kicker Griffin Thomas also had a tough day, missing two field-goal attempts and having another blocked.
“It was a bad day,” he said on his way to the bus.
The last-second kick he might have attempted to tie the game would have been with the wind and little more than a chip shot.
As it turned out, the Panthers (4-3, 3-1) now join a collection of one-loss teams in the OVC, while the Gamecocks slip further back into the pack and now must hope for a two-loss jumble to share the conference title. Their hopes for a playoff spot are likely gone as well. They haven’t been 3-3 since 2007.
The loss also spoiled a breakout game for Ealey. The senior running back enjoyed his best day of the season — 149 yards and a JSU career-high three touchdowns on 23 carries.
Ealey scored the first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run. He carried every play of the opening drive of the second half and capped it with a 3-yard run. And he gave the Gamecocks a 28-24 lead with 9:03 to play on a 6-yard run.
But as the Gamecocks discovered throughout the game, no lead is safe against a quarterback like EIU’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
Playing what Crowe called “good enough on defense,” JSU held Garoppolo to 220 yards passing and intercepted him twice. But Chris Wright got behind freshman safety Brandon Bender and Garoppolo found him with a 15-yard pass to cap his second 80-yard touchdown drive of the fourth quarter to give EIU a 31-28 lead with 3:37 to play.
Wright and Erik Lora combined for 18 catches and 177 yards. Lora, the nation’s leading receiver, enjoyed his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game.
Both teams traded interceptions before the final sequence went in motion.
The Gamecocks started at their own 27 with 1:17 to play and no timeouts looking simply for the tying field goal.
Ivory needed three plays to get the ball inside EIU’s 25 — passes to Trey Smith and Spencer Goffigan and a 12-yard scramble.
Two incompletes brought the clock down to 33 seconds. Ivory ran the ball to the 8, but a late holding penalty against Odie Rush pushed the ball back to the 18.
There were 25 seconds left when the final play began. Ivory dropped back to escape the pressure, reversed his field and then, knowing time was running out, threw it up for grabs.
“I was really just trying not to get sacked so I just kept running around until it came time for me to throw it,” Ivory said. “I didn’t make it out of bounds and Washaun caught it. I was trying to throw it away.
“We were trying to get in field goal range, they told us that from the beginning, but we got down there kind of quick. Obviously we were trying to win the game, but we got a penalty and that threw us off schedule.”
For his part, Ealey wanted to make a play to help his quarterback. He just couldn’t get out of bounds.
“I should’ve just knocked it down, but I just caught it,” he said. “I saw the sideline, I tried to get over there but got checked up. I’ve got to make a better effort to get out of bounds. I really didn’t see how many seconds were on the clock, I wasn’t focused on that and I feel like I really cost us in the end.”
EIU coach Dino Babers sounded relieved.
“I thought we were going to sack the quarterback and give them one more play,” Babers said. “Then I saw him scramble and find the running back. I heard the stadium go “ohhh’ but I think it was a blessing because he was tackled in bounds and Jacksonville State didn’t have a time out remaining.
“I saw their field goal was not ready to come on the field, so I thought we had a chance.”
With the exception of Thomas’ missed 48-yard field goal, things couldn’t have gone better for the Gamecocks early.
They were controlling the clock to keep EIU’s fast-paced offense on the bench, stopped two fourth-down snaps — one from near midfield and the other in the red zone — and opened a 14-0 lead.
They ultimately outgained the Panthers and held a commanding 13-minute edge in time of possession.
But then the rain of turnovers came. The Panthers converted three Ivory turnovers in the final 10:36 of the half into 17 points and a 17-14 halftime lead.
Ivory lost the ball when he appeared to get his foot stuck in the turn, and EIU recovered at the 27. Six plays later, Jake Walker put the Panthers on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run.
On the Gamecocks’ next possession, Ivory escaped pressure at least three times and saw Kevyn Cooper open along the sideline. Ivory was hit as he threw, Crawford stepped in front of Cooper and was gone for a 39-yard game-tying return when Cooper couldn’t grab him.
Ivory was intercepted on a deep ball into the wind in the final minute. The Panthers made it all the way to the JSU 26 with 3.7 seconds left and Cameron Berra sent them into the dressing room with the lead on a 43-yard field goal
“We had a good game plan; we just made bad plays,” Ivory said. “I made a lot myself.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.