Jacksonville State played in some of its coldest temperatures in recent memory Saturday, but a 31-10 win over McNeese State was as soothing as a cup of hot chocolate.
Temperature at kickoff was 37 degrees, marking the third coldest playoff game in McNeese history. It was two degrees colder at kickoff here than the game across the state in Hammond that started an hour later.
The JSU players made available to the media after the game said they didn’t really do anything special to combat the cold, although Dustin Gayton’s solution solved one of coach Bill Clark’s biggest questions.
“I actually tried a new thing of wearing Vaseline on my arms to keep me warm,” linebacker Dustin Gayton said. “And the heater helped a lot. I know my feet got cold on the sideline and my fingertips. That was a huge thing for us this week.”
Gayton’s unique cold-weather solution got Clark’s attention.
“Now I know why we’ve got Vaseline on our balls,” he said. “Y’all are in trouble.”
The other players said just being on the field in the action kept them warm enough.
“As long as we’re on the field I don’t feel it,” linebacker Robert Gray said. “When I get to the sideline, that’s a different situation. I have to move around a lot, but as far as wearing anything I just wear the same thing.”
In a state where they like to say “Let the good times roll,” the Jacksonville State defense had their own kind of party Saturday night.
A sack party.
The Gamecocks, already one of the nation’s leading sack masters, had McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud running for his football life all night. They sacked him a school-record 11 times.
Linebackers Dustin Gayton and Robert Gray each had three. Ketrick Wolfe had two.
The NCAA doesn’t keep such records for single-game highs, but it was three more than the Gamecocks’ previous single-game best, set against Samford in 1998 and Tennessee State in 2004.
“I think a lot for us starts with coverage,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “We like to play man coverage … which you just don’t see a lot of.
“We knew we had to stop their running game first and we made a big deal about it. The pass rush was great, especially in the first half, and I think our coverage was great. I think we’re getting better and better rushing the passer.”
The Gamecocks went into the game ranked 11th nationally in sacks with 39, a 3.0 average. Fifteen different players had contributed. Six got one Saturday.
The Cowboys had given up only 14 sacks all season.
“I think it all comes down to coverage,” Gayton said. “Our corners (and) linebackers, they gave us extra time to get to the passer tonight; that’s what it came down to.
“They were in man coverage and locking them down. When you get a lot of time like that, a quarterback can’t find a receiver and you get a lot of time to get to the passer.”
JSU running back DaMarcus James continues to rewrite the Gamecocks’ rushing records.
He already has the OVC and school record for rushing touchdowns in a season (28) and Saturday night he smashed the JSU single-season rushing record that has stood since 2001. He now has 1,431 yards.
Asked which one he covets more, the soft-spoken James had no preference.
“I really don’t cherish any goal,” he said. “My main focus is to get the win. Everything else is a blessing.”
He’s a pretty good hand at protecting the ball, too. When James lost a fumble midway through the second quarter Saturday it was only his second fumble of the year (in 277 carries) and his first in 167 totes. His last fumble was in the fourth quarter at UT Martin.
Jacksonville State athletic director Warren Koegel had two reasons to be happy.
His current program advanced to the third round of the FCS Playoffs with a dominating showing against McNeese State and his former program, Coastal Carolina, won at frigid Montana.
Koegel reveled in the Gamecocks’ victory, high-fiving members of the pep band and the Gamecock Nation along the first few rows of the stands.
“I’m not at Coastal any more,” he said. “I’m happy for those guys over there still playing, but I’m really happy for us.”
Drawing a crowd
With a huge boost from the games in the two coldest locales, the eight playoffs games in Saturday’s second round drew an average of 8,915. It was about double last week’s draw, but still less than what Jacksonville State drew for its home game (8,992).
The two highest-attended games of the day were at North Dakota State (18,455) and Montana (17,345).
The JSU-McNeese game drew an announced crowd of 5,036, the sixth-best attended game of the day.
Eastern Washington, which hosts JSU next week, drew 6,127 for its game with South Dakota State.