There really isn’t any other way to describe the way Jacksonville State mauled Samford in the first round of the FCS Playoffs Saturday night.
The 20th-ranked Gamecocks made a loud statement to the rest of the playoff field, crushing the 18th-ranked Bulldogs 55-14 for their first playoff win since winning the 1992 Division II national championship.
It had been six years since the teams last played on a regular basis and Saturday’s result did nothing to encourage the Bulldogs (8-5) to even think about renewing what is the oldest series on JSU’s books. The Gamecocks (10-3) opened a 38-0 halftime lead and had the OVC playoff scoring record before the fourth quarter.
It was JSU’s ninth straight win the series, which ended on a regular basis after the 2007 season, and sends the Gamecocks to play former Southland Football League rival and No. 6 national seed McNeese State (10-2) Saturday, 6 p.m., in Lake Charles, La.
“This is very special; it’s the first playoff win, you can’t beat that,” said quarterback Eli Jenkins, who wasn’t even born the last time the Gamecocks won a playoff game. “I think everybody was excited, everybody bought in.”
The Gamecocks set records everywhere.
Besides setting the conference playoff scoring mark, the 55 points were the most they scored in a playoff game since beating West Chester 63-24 in the opening round of the 1988 Division II playoffs. The margin of victory was their all-time postseason best.
DaMarcus James added to his Jax State and OVC single-season record with two more rushing touchdowns, giving him 25 for the year. Griffin Thomas tied Gavin Hallford’s 2007 JSU single-season field goal record with two more, giving him 22.
The JSU defense set the single-season school record for sacks with six against Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, giving them 39 for the year — three times more than they had the previous season. And punter Hamish MacInnes kicked an all-time FCS playoff record 68-yarder that went out of bounds at the 1. On the next play, Robert Gray recovered a Samford fumble in the end zone for JSU’s final touchdown.
“I think our guys had a sense of history this week … and responded well,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “The effort tonight, the execution — in every phase — was just terrific. To really come out and play like we did, just our energy and our focus, I couldn’t be happier for these guys and the coaches.
“I don’t think a coach ever sees that coming. Whatever happened I felt like we had a really good week. To see it come out in the game is very satisfying.”
The Gamecocks racked up 482 yards of total offense. James and Jenkins led a 367-yard rushing attack with 124 and 115 yards, respectively. Jenkins also threw for 115 yards on 11 of 19 passing. Telvin Brown had touchdowns rushing and receiving.
The defense, meanwhile, held Samford to 201 yards total — JSU’s all-time playoff best — and only 93 yards rushing. They limited Summerlin, the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, to 7-of-24 passing for 81 yards.
The Gamecocks’ first three Division I playoff appearances — all under Clark’s predecessor, Jack Crowe — were letdowns, but they were determined not to have that happen again.
They simply dominated the Bulldogs (8-5) from the start. They opened with a relentless campaign of pressure on Summerlin and never let up on either side of the ball.
In the first half alone they held the Bulldogs to only 17 yards of net offense on 28 plays. They hassled Summerlin into completing only 3 of 14 passes for 6 yards and sacked him four times to set the JSU single-season record for dropping quarterbacks.
“That’s a talented defense and it showed tonight,” Summerlin said. “We’ve played aggressive defenses before, (but) we didn’t play our best game tonight so that aggressiveness was a little more evident tonight. We didn’t bring our A game and it showed.”
Offensively, they scored all three times they had the ball in the first quarter and six of the seven times they had it in the first half. The only time they didn’t score in the half they still threatened — Thomas hit the right upright with a 46-yard field goal attempt.
They wasted little time seizing control. James capped the offense’s first drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on a direct snap. Before the quarter was over, Eli Jenkins broke off a 72-yard touchdown run that tied a 25-year-old school playoff record and Thomas kicked a 37-yard field goal.
In the second quarter, Jenkins threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Telvin Brown, James had his second direct-snap touchdown of the game and Miles Jones scored on a 12-yard run.
“I think we had a pretty good game plan,” Jenkins said. “We just stuck with it. Plays just fell into place like we practiced. Coaches always preach starting off fast and I think we did that tonight.”
Playing in his first game back after being leveled in the Eastern Kentucky game, Brown came back for the ball to make the catch, then juked Samford corner Bruce Greer inside the 5 (after Jaquiski Tartt fell) to open a path to the end zone. James’ second score capped a 12-play, 54-yard drive
“I didn’t see the other defender who was coming to me; I guess it was just a lucky play,” Brown said. “I just saw him on the outside. I knew he was going to bite on it and he did. I didn’t know I was that close to the end zone either, but I saw like 4 yards and I had to go, so I was like I’ll just outrun him to the end zone.”
Brown added an exclamation point when he broke off a 67-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half.
Samford finally got on the board on the ensuing possession as Summerlin threw a 37-yard pass to Kelvin Clay. The Bulldogs scored their other touchdown on a trick play late in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think we played our best, we should’ve made it a more competitive game, but sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. “We didn’t do anything to help ourselves. When you get behind that way and things continue to go (bad) … we couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was frustrating.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached t 256-235-3577.