The Jacksonville State football team was eliminated from the Ohio Valley Conference title chase Saturday through a 49-47 loss at UT Martin, which no longer is the automatic win it used to be.
It was a game reminiscent in parts of the Gamecocks’ two other OVC losses this season.
The comparison to Eastern Kentucky was simple. Even without the turnovers, the Gamecocks fell way behind Saturday — 28-7 in the first quarter, 35-14 in the second — and looked headed to an equally harsh blowout as the 51-21 disaster at EKU until they turned their game around.
The comparison to Eastern Illinois was a little more cerebral. There were times Saturday the Gamecocks reverted to the uncertainty that created mistakes — a syndrome that was starting to disappear as the season extended — and in the end they again were scrambling for a potential game-tying play in the final minute.
“There was enough there to win, there was enough there to lose,” Crowe said Sunday. “Sort of the EIU game all over again.”
The Gamecocks (5-4, 4-3) tightened up in the second half and held the Skyhawks (7-2, 5-1) to only 14 points while more than doubling their own offensive production. The difference was giving UTM quarterback Derek Carr a short field with a shanked punt to set up one of his seven touchdown passes — right after JSU tied it — and a missed extra point that ultimately made the Gamecocks to go for a failed two-point conversion in the final minute to force overtime.
The loss offset big performances by Alan Bonner, Marques Ivory and DaMarcus James. Bonner caught 10 passes for 235 yards and five touchdowns. Ivory threw six touchdown passes in the game. James rushed for 128 yards on 22 carries in his first game back since sustaining a concussion in mid-October.
UTM’s Carr threw for 402 yards and the seven TDs — four in the first quarter, including three of his five to Quentin Sims.
The teams combined for 1,126 yards on 164 snaps and, amazingly, had zero turnovers. The last time JSU played a game in which neither team committed a turnover was in 2010 against Murray State, a 40-34 JSU victory.
Despite the loss, Crowe is confident the Gamecocks will forge ahead with a sense of purpose to achieve a 10th straight winning season.
Winning the home finale against OVC cellar-dweller Austin Peay (1-8, 0-6) — a team the Gamecocks have never lost to since Peay rejoined the OVC football league in 2007 — would assure them no worse than a 6-5 finish. They wrap up the season the following week at Florida.
“It makes you sick, but it doesn’t kill us,” Crowe said of the impact of his team's third loss in its last four trips to Martin. “I don’t think it’s going to alter the spirit of our defense. … Even though we had a bad half of football, I don’t expect it to stop the momentum we gained defensively.
“Thank goodness even when we have shortcomings, we come out of it. We don’t get overwhelmed by it. We might have reverted back (Saturday), but we didn’t stay there. The last time we got overwhelmed by the uncertainty; this time we didn’t.”
In terms of his team’s injuries, Crowe said the Gamecocks were not making plans to be without "somebody who makes a difference in game planning.”
The Gamecocks played UT Martin without quarterback Coty Blanchard (illness), running back Troymaine Pope (knee) and offensive linemen Colt Kennedy and Johnny Ubi.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.