Normally I wouldn't lead my "FCS East Wrapup" with a battle from the Deep South. But Jacksonville State, aside from thrilling folks nationally as ESPN cut to their game, has enough of a history with Lehigh to justify them being the lead this week.
And boy did they earn their place atop my column, with a brass balls performance in their 42-41 upset win over Darth Miss. The plucky Gamecocks ended up strangling the Rebels, much the same way a little team from Boone, North Carolina captured the imagination of the sporting world a couple of years ago. (more)
I don't know if you've seen the highlights or not, but they're worth it. Down 31-10 at halftime, Jacksonville State had only gained 70 total yards on the afternoon. To start the second half, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt pulls his starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, expecting to coast to victory, and instead finds out that the Gamecocks think there's still a football game going on out there.
It starts innocently enough, with a FG to cut the deficit to 31-13. Then, a touchdown to open the fourth quarter by RB Calvin Middleton cuts the deficit to 31-20. Two tiny scores to go. The Rebels get to Gamecock 33.. and Jacksonville State holds the line on 4th down. QB Coty Blanchard - who, incidentally, doubles as the Gamecocks' punter, and was playing in his first collegiate game - finds WR James Shaw - and all of a sudden it's a five point game with six minutes to play.
But certainly a quick Ole Miss drive, ending in a 35 yard field goal by PK Brynson Rose, would seal the deal? Even if Jacksonville State could score a touchdown, wouldn't they be so intimidated that they couldn't possibly get the 2-point conversion?
Not with QB Marques Ivory back in the game - you see, head coach Jack Crowe was rotating the two starting QBs - and connecting with WR Allan Bonner on an amazing 19 yard strike across the middle to cut the deficit to 2 with 19 seconds left. By now, ESPN had cut over to the game, so the nation got to enjoye Ivory-to-Bonner.
The biggest two-point conversion in the history of the program ensued - converted by a scrambling, Ivory pass to RB De'Ray Williams to tie the game.
How crazy did this game get? The starting center and guard reportedly shifted positions during the game, showing exactly what sort of instantaneous, improvised affair it was on the Jacksonville State side. Ole Miss almost lost in in the first overtime - but after an outside toss to RB Brandon Bolden that just barely made it in the end zone, it was tied. In the double overtime - with three straight touchdowns in three possessions to that point - Crowe rotated out Ivory and put Blanchard back in at QB after an illegal formation left Jacksonville State at 2nd and 15. Two incompletions later, Crowe was on the brink of being the goat - until a lofted pass that landed safely in the hands of WR Kevyn Cooper in the end zone, just barely getting the foot in bounds, put Jacksonville State in a position to tie. Or win.
Crowe - the former Arkansas head coach, sensing his gassed defense on the field last overtime, went for the win against Nutt - the former Arkansas head coach.
Blanchard sidesteps the Ole Miss defensive end - unimpeded on the play - passes it to Middleton - 1 yard short of the conversion - and barrels through the line to win the game.
Unbelievable. It gets better with every viewing - and a real badge of honor for FCS football.
Ole Miss, it must be said, is not Michigan. They were unranked going into the game, and they were not expected to be challenging LSU for BCS championships anytime soon.
It wasn't even Jacksonville State's first-ever win over an FBS school: they had achieved that feat in 2001, when they beat Arkansas State out of the Sun Belt 31-28. And Jacksonville State has had its share of talent, too: look no further than QB Ryan Perriloux, who spent two years there when he was dismissed from LSU.
And while the Gamecocks surged in the Sports Network Top 25 with the victory, the truth is we won't know until the end of the year if this win is the coming-out party of a championship team, or merely a very good FCS team.
But today it wasn't just a win over the Sun Belt, something that happens ofter with FCS team: it was a win over the SEC, one of the members of the BCS "We're so rich, nobody can ever compete with us" league. Ole Miss' quarterback, QB Jeremiah Masoli, was kicked out of Oregon but had produced on the field in the Pacific Northwest. This was a huge upset: Jacksonville State was picked to most likely win the OVC this year, but with a brand-new quarterback duo it didn't seem like the Gamecocks would have much of a chance to win this game against the depth talent and coaching experience of Ole Miss.
Not bad, too, for a team that was shut out by Lehigh in the Division II national championship game in 1977, 33-0. (Yes, Jack, it's all about us over here at Lehigh Football Nation.)
Elsewhere around the world of Eastern Football:
- Georgetown put their 0-11 season of 2009 squarely behind them as they won their first road opener since 2005 with a 20-10 victory over Davidson. Junior QB Scott Darby was the Hoya hero on the afternoon, with 130 yards passing, 58 yards rushing and 2 TDs - both scored on consecutive first-quarter drives. "Early in the game, it was like we had one guy missing on about every play, and in football that will kill you," Davidson RB Kenny Mantuo said after the game. Next up for the Hoyas: a date with the Leopards in Easton, for Lafayette's home opener.
- Going into opening weekend, there was most likely only one head coach in Division I that brought an undefeated record to the party. Bucknell head football coach Joe Susan, 10-0 in his only season as head coach (at Davidson) before he came to Bucknell, put it on the line against Duquesne in a Western Pennsy rivalry - only to come up short 17-13 when freshman QB Brandon Wesley's sneak on fourth down, which needed two yards, only got one. “When you give a freshman the run-pass option, sometimes he says, ‘Well, I’m going to run this ball,’ and if he pulled it down a little earlier, he might have gotten it,” said Susan in the post-game press conference. “But we didn’t get it." The Bucknell offense, with Wesley and junior QB Burke Batten splitting time under center, didn't score a touchdown, instead settling on two field goals by junior PK Drew Orth and a 89 yard kickoff return for a TD by sophomore RB Tyler Smith. Next up for Bucknell: a trip to improved Marist, who was skunked by Sacred Heart 28-25 last Friday night.
- Perhaps Bryant will prove to be winning material by the end of the year, but Fordham fans are mostly wondering how their team gave up 44 points to Bryant in a 44-30 drubbing. Fordham actually outgained Bryant 502-400, thanks to junior QB Blake Wayne's 223 yards passing and 98 yards rushing, but the Rams gave up a pair of 100 yard rushers to Bryant - RB Mike Canfora and RB Jordan Brown, who zipped past the punt return team to add a special teams TD to add to their three rushing TDs. "We didn't play well but you have to give Bryant credit," said head coach Tom Masella after the game. "They knocked us off the ball and were more physical up front." It won't get any easier for Fordham, either: they'll face an aggravated Rhode Island of the CAA, who got blanked by FBS Buffalo 31-0. (Remember when teams like Lehigh and Colgate could travel to play the Bulls and beat them soundly? Those were the days, Edith...)
- It seems like the theme this week in college football is "dominating starts, followed by furious comebacks, to be determined in the final seconds." That's what happened in Hamilton, New York, too, as senior S Brad Keele stuffed Monmouth QB Andrew Mandeville to give Colgate a nail-biting 30-29 victory over the Hawks. “I realized the quarterback was probably going to keep it,” said Keele, who stepped into the middle, grabbed the very quick Mandeville and got him down just before he hit the goal line. “I had to make a football play and I did. It felt good. He got pretty close.” Senior QB Greg Sullivan, this week's Patriot League Player of the Week, was an efficient 11-for-14 passing for 180 yards, with 74 rushing yards and 3 TDs, while junior RB Nate Eachus delivered a 30-carry, 145 yard day and senior WR Doug Rosnick did his best Pat Simonds impersonation with 7 catches, 103 yard and a receiving TD. And that was the easy stretch of the schedule for Colgate: next up it's Furman, who will be playing their season opener.
- As expected, Holy Cross was not troubled by Howard in a 38-7 romp at home. Senior QB Ryan Taggart, in his first start, went 17-of-29 for 186 yards and 3 TDs, with the lion's share of that - seven receptions, two TDs and 124 receiving yards - going to senior WR Bill Edger. “Overall, he had a good day,” Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said after the game. “We did make some mistakes, and he was a little off on a couple of plays, but hey, first-game jitters. When he settled down, he was starting to hit the throws a lot better.” Chu Chu Rah Rah said Taggart "performed exceptionally": he'll need to do so again next week when they face 1-0 UMass.
- By the end of their game on Saturday, the UMass Minutemen - picked to finish an incredible 8th in the CAA - didn't look like the eighth-best team in the CAA when they "upset" No. 4 William & Mary at home, 27-23. But that's not to say that they started out on all cylinders. "Our guys responded to a lot of adversity. We put ourselves in a bunch of different holes with some unforced errors and penalties and such," UMass coach Kevin Morris said in the postgame press conference. "We came back after each one and came out with a big win. There was a bunch of potential disasters that we inflicted on ourselves. Today the character came out and they responded in tremendous form." Yet with every potential disaster, William & Mary could not capitalize and deliver the knockout blow, either - and eventually Minuteman RB Jonathan Hernandez would wear down the "D" line of the Number Four team in the nation to the tune of 132 yards rushing and a key touchdown. If Holy Cross hopes to upset the Minutemen at McGuirk stadium next weekend, items 1, 2, and 3 will have to involve shutting down UMass' running game.
- Finally, I don't think anyone in the Lehigh Valley is unaware that the Mountain Hawks will be welcoming the defending FCS national champions to Murray Goodman this Saturday. I also think people know that Temple barely beat Villanova in the second annual "Mayor's Cup" at the Linc last Friday, 31-24. But this Nova blogger had a particularly rough review of the team's performance as well - and may have given Lehigh fans a glimmer of hope this weekend.
I thought QB Chris Whitney looked good, not great. He finished 18-26 for 141 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. His performance in the 4th quarter wasn't anything to get excited about though. He looked flat and was not the fiery leader we saw late last season.
WR Matt Szczur never really got going in the game, and was particularly absent in the 2nd half, although Whitney missed him more than once when he was wide-open. 5 carries for 15 yards is not good. Temple seems to have mastered the Szczur-defense - it's now been 2 years they have kept him under wraps.