Jacksonville State was balanced, with more than 300 yards apiece running and passing for 652 total yards. The Gamecocks were almost unstoppable. Almost.
When the Gamecocks were stopped, they stopped themselves with three Max Shortell interceptions, Josh Barge’s fumble into the end zone at the end of the first half and Markis Merrill’s drop on what should have been a touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Stopping themselves was the difference between JSU winning decisively in regulation and losing in overtime.
After giving up 260 yards and 20 points in the first half, JSU allowed just one Murray State score in the final two quarters, getting stop after stop and giving JSU’s offense opportunities. Five of the Racers’ eight second-half possessions ended in punts.
In the end, though, JSU’s defense couldn’t get off the field, surrendering two fourth-down conversions in Murray State’s overtime possession. That included a Maikhail Miller pass to Jeremy Harness on fourth down and 10 from the JSU 25-yard line.
Miller also passed to a wide-open Miller on the decisive conversion.
Count two missed Griffin Thomas field goals among points JSU could have but didn’t score Saturday. JSU coach Bill Clark said Thomas had a light week of practice last week because of soreness, and that might have made the difference as Thomas missed from 46 and 42 yards, the two longest field goals he tried.
The Gamecocks also gave up a 43-yard kickoff return.
JSU coach Bill Clark said after the game that he came out ready to defend a passing team and designed his defensive game plan for it, and Murray State took advantage with 203 rushing yards in the first half.
Clark adjusted at halftime, and the defense played much better in the second half, allowing just the one touchdown.
Worried about a possible throw into coverage or a sack on a third-down pass into the end zone, Clark also elected to let the regulation clock tick down to four seconds before calling his final timeout and sending Thomas out for the game-tying field goal.
JSU should have won this game going away but came away with no points on five possessions that ended at the Murray State 30-yard line or closer to the goal line. Two of those possessions ended on missed field goals (one after Merrill’s drop on the goal line), two with interceptions and one on a fumble into the end zone. This was the big OVC win that got away.