No one in the wide, wide world of college football has played four straight overtime games, although Georgia Southern once played four in the same season.
JSU coach Bill Clark wouldn’t be surprised if it happened when the Gamecocks play their first Ohio Valley Conference road game of the season Saturday at No. 22 UT Martin.
“I think it could easily come down again to the last seconds,” Clark said Monday. “We’re going to go at it like that — that it’s going to be a fight to the finish.”
The Gamecocks’ last two games with the Skyhawks — and four of the last six — certainly have, even though last year’s game didn’t start out that way.
Martin quarterback Derek Carr threw four of his seven touchdown passes in the first quarter and staked the Skyhawks to a 28-7 lead. But the Gamecocks rallied and it only was Jacksonville State failing on a 2-point conversion with 41 seconds left that secured a 49-47 win.
The year before, in the season opener, Calvin Middleton’s 4-yard run with 38 seconds left capped a 14-point fourth-quarter rally that gave the Gamecocks a 24-23 win. In 2007 it was Cedric Johnson’s 8-yard pass to Taurean Rhett with 1:46 left that produced a 27-24 victory. And in 2008, Martin won 31-30 on a sloppy night in front of ESPNU cameras.
“I hope we do our part,” Clark said. “I know they’re going to battle us and, knowing our guys, we’re going to battle them.”
The Gamecocks (4-1, 0-1 OVC) matched Penn’s 2006 FCS record with three straight overtime games in their 35-34 loss to Murray State last week. They could tie Georgia Southern’s 2008 FCS season record if they get into another one this year. They hadn’t played more than two in any season since the NCAA established a tiebreaker system in 1995.
Penn went extra time with Yale, Brown and Princeton. Georgia Southern did it with Northeastern, Wofford, Western Carolina and The Citadel. Penn lost all three. Georgia Southern went 3-1.
The Gamecocks beat Division II North Alabama and FBS Georgia State before losing on a 2-point conversion by Murray State last week.
“I don’t want three overtime games, but they’ve won two of them,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said during his weekly news conference Monday. “That’s some pressure situations they’ve been able to put their players in. They’ve won two of the three and just kind of a fluke thing got them this week or they’d have been three-for-three. That’s an opportunity to grow with a team.
“That’s almost three more quarters of football, but it’s also early in the season so they’re probably OK with it.”
Overtime or not, the game takes on a playoff air for the Gamecocks. The Skyhawks (3-1, 1-0) are playing like an early contender for the OVC title, and the Gamecocks, with one league loss already, likely can’t afford another setback and stay in the race.
The Gamecocks used to rule the series, going back to their Division II days together, but since former JSU assistant Simpson took over the UTM program in 2006, they hold only a 4-3 lead. Only one of those games has been decided by more than 10 points and that was a 52-7 JSU rout in 2009.
“If you asked me before the season who I thought would be one of the contenders for the title and the teams we’d have to go through to win it, it’d be UT Martin,” Clark said. “I think that speaks to their program, what they’ve done to this point ... and where they’ve come from. The thing we know going into this game is it’s going to be a tough game.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.