Against Austin Peay, 42-10 was enough.
The Gamecocks got a school-record and Ohio Valley Conference-record-tying five rushing touchdowns from DaMarcus James, a full game from No. 3 quarterback Kyle West and an interception return for a touchdown from Rashod Byers to get through perhaps their most mentally taxing game of the year Saturday.
The winless Governors (0-9, 0-5 OVC) ranked near the bottom of 122 FCS programs in most of the major offensive and defensive statistical categories, and after a slow start, the Gamecocks (7-2, 3-2) essentially had their way with them to score their second straight win and clinch an 11th straight winning season.
“Not once did I ever hear anybody say anything about their record. I never saw any change in their demeanor,” JSU head coach Bill Clark said. “I just didn’t see them relax, and that’s all you can really ask – that they come out and treat them like anybody else.”
James took his role as the league’s most punishing running back to a new level Saturday. He rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries and became the first JSU player ever and fourth in the FCS this season to rush five touchdowns in a game.
He scored on runs of 1, 3, 1, 2 and 40 yards – the first three on direct snaps in the second quarter – to join Rodney Rogers (2001) and Alan Bonner (2012) as the only JSU players to find the end zone at least five times in a game. He has now scored at least one touchdown in each of the last six games and his 17 ranks second on JSU’s single-season list.
“I had to step up to the plate,” James said. “A couple guys went down. I couldn’t come out, so I had to put my foot down and keep going forward.
“Five touchdowns, you can’t forget about five touchdowns. The most I had in high school was three, so this was something new to me. It felt good turning around and seeing the team smiling, and everybody happy about it, so it felt good.”
West played the whole game for the Gamecocks, but didn’t enjoy the same success in the early going he had a week earlier playing the final 37 minutes behind Eli Jenkins at Tennessee Tech.
The offense netted only 18 yards in their first three possessions against the nation’s No. 100 defense. West completed only one of his five passes in the first quarter and the Gamecocks also misfired on a gadget play.
But the redshirt sophomore picked it up in the second quarter, completing nine straight passes at one point, and led the offense to 21 points and a 28-3 halftime lead. He finished the game 18 of 30 passing for 188 yards.
“We came out slow,” West said. “I don’t know if it was the long bus ride over from Nashville, but there wasn’t any energy. The pick-six really got us going. Guys started getting that energy, getting that feeling. We started getting things going. … All the guys did a good job fighting through it and keeping after it.”
The Gamecocks had both their other quarterbacks – Jenkins and Max Shortell -- dressed and available, but they stayed with West. Clark said Shortell could have played, and he thought about bringing in Jenkins, who took a shot in the ribs last week at Tech, but his game is a lot of play-action and bootlegs and Austin Peay was determined to stop the run.
Now, they have a fully fresh stable of quarterbacks going into next week’s game with second-place Eastern Kentucky (6-3, 4-1) that carries NCAA playoff implications for both teams.
“We’ve got some decisions to make,” Clark said with a sly smile.
For all the work James and West did later, the Gamecocks actually scored the first points of the game with their defense. The Govs had gotten into the red zone in the first quarter when Byers stepped in front a Jacob Sexton pass at the 5 and brought it all the way back for the game’s first score.
It was JSU’s first interception return for a touchdown since Pierre Warren brought one back against Jacksonville in the home opener.
Gray almost gave the Gamecocks a second touchdown return in the second quarter, but got knocked out of bounds inside the 5.
There was a lot of that going around.
West got beat out of two touchdown passes in the second quarter when Josh Barge and Telvin Brown were ruled out of bounds inside the 5 on separate plays, but as long as James was on the scene, it was fine. James converted all three close calls into touchdowns.
“He’s just so consistent,” Clark said. “That’s what you love about that guy: He comes every day ready to go and gets you the tough yards. He’s just a warrior.”
Austin Peay had scored only four touchdowns all season coming into the game. The Govs found the end zone late in the third quarter against the Gamecocks when Timarious Mitchell found a wide open Javier Booker for 33 yards.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.