Griffin Thomas had other ideas.
Thomas, a junior kicker, pounded a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the game to hand — foot — Jacksonville State its first victory of the season, 27-24 over Chattanooga in the final meeting of the foreseeable future between the two regional rivals.
The kick capped a 35-yard drive over the final 33 seconds after UTC scored the tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
Sophomore receiver Gabe Chambers set the winning drive in motion with a big kickoff return to midfield. The field goal saved the 24th-ranked Gamecocks (1-1) the embarrassment of blowing a 17-0 first-half lead.
“Coach Crowe just said to the field goal team just get a good block and let me get a kick off and go from there, and that’s what we did,” Thomas said. “We had good blocking on that play and I’m glad I got the kick off and it went through.
“It was leaning to the right a little bit, but then it curved back in the middle. It looked good.”
Saturday’s game-winner was reminiscent of the 52-yarder Thomas kicked as a walk-on freshman to win the 2010 spring game. He kicked a career-best 49-yarder last week at Arkansas.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Thomas, who took over the fulltime kicking duties this year after James Esco gave up his senior year of eligibility to pursue a lucrative job in South Florida. “I was kind of happy they called a time out, though, to give us a little time.”
Even before the ball split the uprights, Thomas made a beeline for the farthest point of the end zone at the opposite end of the field — with his teammates chasing after him.
“I took my eye off it and started running before it even hit the ground I think,” he said. “I didn’t really see the end of it.”
The Mocs (0-2) tied the game on a 16-yard Jacob Huesman pass to Ron Moore with 39 seconds left. Keon Williams scored the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Quarterback Marques Ivory had no doubt the Gamecocks would get in position to give Griffin a chance, even with the limited time available.
He completed three straight passes at the start of the drive, including a sideline pass to former high school teammate Kevyn Cooper to keep it going and then smartly avoided a sack by throwing one away, stopping the close with six seconds left.
“Before I went out there I told Griff I’m going to get you in there,” Ivory said. “I got him close enough to make it.”
Damarcus James, carrying the biggest load in the running game following the midweek suspension of senior Washaun Ealey, then broke off a 13-yard run to set up the field goal. He saw he wasn’t going to score and time was winding down, so he hit the deck as quickly as he could.
“I know I was trying to call time out on the ground” James said. “I don’t know if they could see me or not, but I was trying.”
The Gamecocks were able to call time out just before the clock expired. It helped the coaching staff clued the officials into what they wanted to do on the previous snap.
“The first question is why do you run the ball with six seconds left,” Crowe said. “You don’t unless you feel OK about going into overtime. That would have never happened if it was win or lose, I can promise you.
“I was ready to go into overtime. Before we go play somebody I decide if I want to go into overtime with them. I think our ability to throw the ball in the red zone with Marques Ivory and our ability to make plays with our legs with Coty Blanchard give us — just like Ole Miss — a good feeling. I wanted to give us a makeable field goal or go into overtime. (Thomas) can hit it.”
Thomas said he was willing to have tried the longer attempt, but “I’m a lot happier (James) got it closer.”
It was the Gamecocks’ 15th win in the final two minutes of a game since 1993 and the second time in as many games against UTC here they have won at the wire. The Gamecocks christened the current configuation of their stadium with a 21-17 win over the Mocs in 2010 when Ivory threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to James Shaw with 1:16 to play.
Given the way the game started, the Gamecocks probably shouldn’t have been in a position to need a game-winning field goal. They led 17-0 late in the second quarter and 24-10 midway through the third quarter.
Thomas kicked a 33-yard field goal, Pierre Warren scooped up a fumble and returned it 75 yards for a defensive touchdown and James scored on a 35-yard run.
Blanchard’s 30-yard touchdown pass to James gave the Gamecocks a 24-10 lead.
By virtually every number except the scoreboard, this was a game that appeared to be UTC’s. The Mocs outgained JSU in total offense — 422 yards to 410. It outgained them through the air and on the ground. They even were devoid of penalties, while JSU had seven.
The Gamecocks might not have had as good an offensive rhythm as they did against Arkansas a week ago, they still showed remarkable balance.
Sophomore running back Damarcus James and Troymaine Pope — seeing their roles increased due to the suspension of senior Washaun Ealey -- rushed for 120 and 100 yards, respectively, becoming the Gamecocks’ first two 100-yard rushers in the same game since the 2008 UTC game. Quarterback Marques Ivory completed 14 of 19 passes for 156 yards.
UTC freshman quarterback Jacob Huesman, the coach’s son, was equally impressive. He rushed for 166 yards on 21 carries and completed 18 of 30 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Mocs died by the foot. While Griffin kicked the game-winning field goal, UTC kicker Nick Pollard missed a field goal attempt on the game’s opening drive and missed an extra point in the third quarter that forced the Mocs to go for two to tie.
“There’s nothing in these stats that say we won -- nothing,” Crowe said. “There’s no win here. I’ll tell you where the win is. It’s in the heart of those players. That was great fight.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.