JSU controlled the first three quarters with lots of DaMarcus James runs, with runs from Troymaine Pope and quarterback Eli Jenkins sprinkled in. Jenkins also hit big passes when needed.
But a Jenkins interception on an ill-advised pass in the fourth quarter helped Southeast Missouri pull within 42-34 after JSU led at one point 42-13. Eriq Moore returned the cross-field lob 72 yards to JSU’s 4.
The Gamecocks still emerged from this game with the school single-season record for total yards, and James finished with the Ohio Valley Conference single-season record for touchdowns. They scored on six of their first eight possessions and punted once.
JSU had 440 rushing yards, and James led three rushers with 100 yards or more, going for 206 and three scores.
Except for SEMO’s first drive of both halves, JSU had a solid performance for the first three quarters. Then JSU allowed 21 unanswered points.
One of those scores came after the long interception return, but JSU also gave up big runs. The Gamecocks were gashed up the middle several times and seemed to struggle against scrambling backup quarterback Kyle Snyder.
The Red Hawks came within 15 yards of a would-be tying score.
All eyes were on JSU’s coverage teams to see how they would handle SEMO return man Spencer Davis. He leads the OVC in kick returns but had a pedestrian day.
JSU kicker Griffin Thomas had the glitches of the day, missing a 42-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half and a 44-yarder with 2:26 to play when JSU had a chance to push its lead to 11 points.
SEMO came into the game with the OVC’s worst rushing defense, and the Gamecocks went right at it and produced a big day, and JSU’s defensive staff seemed to make adjustments after the Red Hawks scored in their first drives of each half.
But the Gamecocks took the pedal off the metal after building a 42-13 lead and wound up having to sweat in this game. In the end, JSU had to make a fourth-down stop at its 15-yard line with one second to play.
JSU survived against a 3-9 opponent it should have dominated to finish the regular season a slightly-better-than-expected 9-3 in Bill Clark’s first season as the Gamecocks’ head coach.
The Gamecocks sit on the bubble in terms of the 24-team Football Championship Subdivision playoff, and will learn their fate today.