The Gamecocks picked up their first Ohio Valley Conference victory of the season Saturday, continuing their series domination over Southeast Missouri with a 31-16 win at JSU Stadium.
On a day to honor the 1992 national championship team — all the way down to wearing the helmet logo from that era —the Gamecocks ran hard, played swarming defense and broke away from a tight game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. All they had to do at the end was have quarterback Marques Ivory take a knee on the final two snaps of the game.
It was a lot easier than their first victory, which came on a last-second field goal over Chattanooga in their home opener.
“We’ll finally get to see it on film on Friday next week when we do our little snap tape,” Ivory said. “That was the first time in a long time that we did it. It was comfortable just at the end, the very end. We can’t relax any more, especially with the things that have been happening to us lately.”
After losing their OVC opener last week and looking badly doing it, the Gamecocks (2-2, 1-1 OVC) played one of their most balanced games of the year.
At the very least it provided some redemption for both sides of their line of scrimmage, which head coach Jack Crowe vilified last week by saying its difference with Eastern Kentucky was like men to boys. What he saw Saturday, he said, was “significant marked improvement.”
On this night, the Gamecocks amassed 429 yards of offense and scored a season-high in points. They converted 10 of 13 third-down situations. Every time SEMO scored, they matched or bettered it.
The Gamecocks regained a rushing attack. They ran for 268 yards as a team, with B-back DaMarcus James going for a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He scored the Gamecocks’ go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run and their final touchdown on an 8-yard run.
Ivory, meanwhile, completed 14 of 18 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns — for a passer efficiency rating of 189.58, prompting Crowe to say “I don’t know what perfect is, but it’d be real close.” Alan Bonner caught seven passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and was just as effective as a rusher, gaining 23 yards on three carries. Kevyn Cooper caught the other touchdown pass. Griffin Thomas accounted for JSU’s other points on a 20-yard field goal —after the offense failed to find the end zone with a first-and-goal from the 3.
The Gamecocks got through it without a turnover against a team that was leading the nation in interceptions and takeaways.
“This was really big for us,” sophomore center Max Holcombe said. “We preached all week that we were going dominate up front and the game pretty much showed that we did.
“Coming off the EKU game, we didn’t have the best game up front but … the way we played today shows how well when we play as a unit and communicate we can dominate people.”
The case was the same for the JSU defense, which entered the game ranked 106 or worse out of 121 teams in all five major FCS statistical categories and were last in pass efficiency.
The Redhawks (2-3, 1-1) did have 303 total yards and opened the scoring with a 99-yard touchdown drive, but the Gamecocks’ young defense gave up only nine points the rest of the game. They held the Redhawks’ offense, a run-dominated power option attack, to 56 yards passing. Ivory completed more passes than SEMO attempted.
Levi Terrell rushed for 146 yards for SEMO, but he never got in the end zone.
“Last week, I don’t know what it was, but we basically got embarrassed by how we didn’t come prepared to fight like we did tonight,” said sophomore nose Caleb Lawrence, who had a team-high nine tackles and teamed with DiMetrio Tyson on a sack. “We had to come off that loss with the mentality this is never, ever going to happen again. We’re never going to get dominated like we did last week. We had a challenge set for us to dominate the line of scrimmage tonight and as a defensive line we did that.”
It keeps their postseason hopes alive — a second loss would’ve made it tough to win the league and a third overall loss would’ve had them playing on the playoff bubble all year with Florida at the end of the schedule. It also got them to feeling good about themselves again.
Even Ivory said not doing what they did “probably would’ve been very devastating” with a young team.
“But we got it together,” he said.
It was the Gamecocks’ fifth straight win over the Redhawks and 10th in the last 11 meetings. They are now 9-1 against them since joining the OVC in 2003.
It was a tight game throughout with both teams enjoying some efficient offense. SEMO opened the scoring with a 99-yard drive, but the Gamecocks came back with their own 84-yard drive capped by Ivory’s TD pass to Cooper.
Drew Geldbach salvaged another SEMO drive that started at the 1 with a 42-yard field goal, but James put the Gamecocks ahead for good when he bounced along the line at the 1 before finding a hole to the end zone.
Griffin’s field goal pushed JSU’s lead to 17-16. SEMO was in position to tie the game after Renard Celestin’s 13-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Geldbach missed the extra point.
Ivory then threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bonner with 10:57 to play —the 30th TD pass of his career —giving the Gamecocks an eight-point lead. James closed the scoring with 2:05 left.
“I think this win says a lot,” Crowe said. “I don’t know that is says a lot to people on the basis of the tradition of us playing SEMO, but what I saw coming in here and what I saw on that field, that’s going to be a tough team for anybody to beat and it says a whole lot about us that we won and how we won.
“We have such questions about ourselves on defense and yet we were faced with the same thing and as time went on we got it done.”