JACKSONVILLE, ALA. – A 44-yard field goal by Griffin Thomas of Jacksonville State in overtime was the difference as Tennessee State lost their first game of the season 31-28 Saturday afternoon.
Things did not get off on the right foot for the Tigers as on the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Michael German threw an interception to Jermaine Hough, who returned it seven yards to the TSU 46.
The Gamecocks (4-3, 3-2 OVC) would capitalize as running back Troymaine Pope ran in from two yards out to give JSU an early 7-0 advantage.
The Tigers (7-1, 3-1 OVC) responded later in the quarter with a score of their own. After German connected with Travis James on a 32-yard pass to put TSU in Jacksonville State territory for the first time, German finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown to Devin Wilson in the back right of the end zone to tie the game at seven.
JSU started the second quarter just like it did the first; on a touchdown drive.
This time the Gamecocks used the passing game as QB Marques Ivory found RB Washaun Ealey out of the backfield streaking up the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown reception to retake the lead 14-7.
Also just like the first quarter, TSU answered a JSU touchdown with one of their own.
A pair of long third down conversions were the key as RB Trabis Ward took a screen pass on third-and-18 for 23 yards to the TSU 39 to get the Tigers out of the shadow of its own end zone. The drive would end on another third down as German threw a 25-yard pass to James in the middle of the end zone to tie the game at 14.
The Tigers defense forced a JSU three-and-out to put the ball right back in the hands of the offense. TSU only needed three plays to take its first lead of the contest. A 24-yard completion to tight end A.C. Leonard moved the ball past midfield. Two plays later, Ward scored his 14th rushing touchdown of the season on a 42-yard scamper up the right sideline off a pulling block by center Sherman Carter to put the Tigers up 21-14 going into the half.
That run put Ward over 100 yards in the game and over 1,000 yards on the season. He is the fourth player in TSU history with 1,000 rushing yards in a season joining Charles Anthony, Javarris Williams and Darron Davis and it’s the seventh time overall that the Tigers have had a 1,000 yard rusher.
Ward finished with 168 yards on 34 carries with one touchdown. He now has 1,070 rushing yards on the season, sixth best in TSU history.
TSU had a chance to increase its lead before halftime, but could not get the field goal team on the field for a 37-yard field goal, which would prove costly down the stretch.
For the third time in the game, Jacksonville State scored a touchdown on its first possession of a quarter. With first-and-goal from the eight, Ealey bounced his rush to the left into the end zone to once again tie the game, this time at 21, with 11:16 remaining in the third quarter.
The Gamecock defense stopped the Tigers near midfield on the ensuing possession to give them a chance to retake the leads.
JSU would go on a 12-play scoring drive that took up 5:39 of the clock and resulted in QB Coty Blanchard running in from two yards out putting the Gamecocks up 28-21 at the end of three. JSU outgained TSU 159 yards to 44 and held the ball for 9:35 in the third quarter.
Needing to put points on the board to keep it a one score game, TSU did just that as the Tigers converted two third downs in route to an 11-yard hookup between German and James to tied it a 28.
James had five catches for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Over the next three combined possessions, there was three turnovers in a span of 44 seconds. It started with an Ealey fumble that was recovered by TSU’s Wilson Robinson at the JSU 40. On the very next play, German threw his second interception of the game, again to Hough, who returned it to the Gamecock 39 yard line. Two plays later, JSU QB Blanchard threw an interception of his own to Steven Godbolt III, who made a spectacular one handed gab, at the TSU 25. With 5:36 left in the game, it set up TSU for a game winning drive.
The Tigers drove down the field using 15 plays, converting three third downs and all 5:36 remaining on the clock to set up a 42-yard field goal for Godfrey. A false start penalty on TSU moved the ball back five yards and Godfrey missed the 47 yarder wide right to go into overtime tied at 28.
The Tigers outgained JSU by 109 yards in the fourth quarter and had the ball for 10 minutes, 26 seconds.
Tennessee State would get the ball to start overtime and German wasted little time moving the ball as he connected with Leonard on the first play for a 12 yard gain. German was sacked three plays later by Mikel Whittier and last 13 yards to set up a 42-yard field goal for the lead. Godfrey missed his second attempt wide left.
JSU would play conservative on offense running the ball its first two plays of the extra session before Greg Barksdale sacked Blanchard on a QB roll out for a loss of nine. That set up kicker Griffin Thomas for a 44-yard field goal and the win as Jacksonville State ended TSU’s unblemished record.
German finished with 311 yards on 21-of-37 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Tennessee State returns home for the final time this season as they take on Tennessee Tech at Hale Stadium next Saturday. Kick off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
CLICK HERE to watch a post game interview with head coach Rod Reed.
CLICK HERE to watch a post game interview with RB Trabis Ward.
GAME NOTES: Trabis Ward is the fourth player in TSU history with 1,000 rushing yards in a season (Charles Anthony, Javarris Williams and Darron Davis) and the seventh overall. He passed his total of 978 yards last season and Javarris Williams’ 1,037 yards in 2008 … In his last two games, Ward has 77 carries for 435 yards and five touchdowns … TSU has led at halftime in seven of its eight games this season … The two touchdowns for Travis James ties his career-high set last season vs. UT Martin on November 12 … Jacksonville State leads the all-time series 7-1 with the lone TSU win coming in 2006