When the Gamecocks and Tennessee State both won in the opening round, it helped the OVC snap a 13-year, 19-game playoff losing streak. It was the first time since 1991 two OVC teams won in the same round.
TSU actually ended the league’s slide earlier in the day with a 31-0 shutout of non-scholarship Butler. The Gamecocks just added to the fun with their 55-14 win over Samford.
It had been so long since the OVC won a playoff game, the last team to do it — Western Kentucky — isn’t even in the league anymore.
“We are so excited,” said Brad Walker, the OVC associate commissioner attending the JSU-Samford game. “Now, next year, for the first time in a while we won’t have to hear they haven’t won a playoff game in how long?
“We were so pumped all day today. Just to knock it out right away … and do it so convincingly.”
The TSU win sets up a second-round rematch with No. 2 national seed Eastern Illinois, one of three conference rematches when the day started and only the third rematch of OVC teams in the playoffs (1984, 1991). The others are Maine-New Hampshire (CAA) and Sam Houston-Southeastern Louisiana (Southland).
Geographic proximity is one of the “primary principles” of the selection process, said Mark Wilson, the OVC’s rep on the selection committee and Saturday’s NCAA site representative. Conference teams wouldn’t meet in the first round unless they hadn’t played during the season. After that, it’s the luck of the bracket.
“I think it’s exciting for all the schools involved,” said Wilson, Tennessee Tech’s athletics director. “There’s such a high level of interest in the FCS playoffs. This is great football and I think the matchups we have -- like an old OVC team, Samford, playing a current OVC team, Jacksonville State, we think that’s great for football, great for football in this area of the country.”
Because an OVC team is guaranteed to win the EIU-TSU game, it will be the first time since 1991 the OVC has won multiple playoff games in the same season.
“I wanted to vindicate our league for us getting a third team,” Clark said. “We were playing for all of ourselves and our community, but we also felt we were playing for our league, so it was good to see both of us win, definitely.”
In the moment
The Iron Bowl may have had a finish for the ages a couple hours down the road, but Samford coach Pat Sullivan wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
Under another set of circumstances Sullivan would have been ecstatic after his alma mater just stunned its bitter rival, but a 55-14 loss in his own game has a way of taking the sting out of such things.
“Somebody told me in the middle of the first quarter that Auburn won the game. That’s all I know,” he said. “You get your rear end beat as bad as mine was, I wasn’t really caring about what was going on in Auburn-Alabama.”
JSU receiver Telvin Brown had been out of action since being taken from the field during the Nov. 9 game with Eastern Kentucky. He returned Saturday with a vengeance.
Brown scored two touchdowns in the Gamecocks’ 55-14 win over Samford. He caught a 47-yard pass from Eli Jenkins then opened the scoring in the second half with a 67-yard run on the first play of the third quarter.
“It was very good for me to get back with my teammates after two weeks of sitting out,” Brown said. “Two weeks, I had a lot of downtime to think about what I’ve done this year and what I need to do for this team to make a big run in the playoffs.
“I wanted to come out and show I’m good to the coaches and show they still have a good player in me.”
JSU coach Bill Clark called Brown’s run at the start of the second half “huge,” even though the Gamecocks had a 38-0 lead at the time.
“It’s such a Catch-22 now,” he said. “I don’t mean this bad, but you’re not trying to run the score up, but there’s so much offense out there now that somebody can catch back up. You hear it all the time: This team had this lead and this other team came back. We really talk about 0-0 at half, specifically when we’re up.
“ We’re going to keep coaching for 60 minutes. Sometimes our guys wonder why I’m not relaxed and I tell them I relax when it’s over. We’re trying to create this mindset of intensity. To see them come out and do it on that first play kind of helped seal the deal. Great first play.”
The Gamecocks (10-3) extended a long series winning streak Saturday by beating Samford. Now, they will be out to end a lifetime oh-for when they travel to No. 6 national seed McNeese State (10-2) for a second-round game Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Gamecocks have never beaten the Cowboys in seven all-time meetings, six as members of the Southland Football League. It matches Troy for their longest active losing streak to one team.
The closest the Gamecocks have ever come to beating the Cowboys was 1999 in Paul Snow Stadium, 39-36 in double overtime. They’d have secured it if JSU defensive back Eriles McCullough hadn’t tried to advance a fumble in the second overtime. He was ruled not to have possession when the ball went out of bounds. It went back to the Cowboys and they scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
The Cowboys ended their regular season this year ranked 13th nationally in total offense (463.4 ypg), 18th in rushing (222.5) and fourth in scoring (42.5).
They’ve scored at least 40 points in all but three games this year – a win over Sam Houston (31-23) and losses to Northern Iowa (41-6) and Southeastern Louisiana (41-7).
If Max Shortell is healthy, it might be a good game for him. The Cowboys are 104th in passing yards allowed (253.2).
“The hardest thing is the fact they’ve had a week off,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “Hopefully we’re playing real well. We’re just glad to go to the next week.
“I think you can tell our guys are excited. We do not feel satisfied in any way. We’ve talked about this in the off season, not being arrogant but our goal is to win a national championship. Part of that goal is to win this next game.”