James leads Jax State to OVC win

JACKSONVILLE — Jack Crowe thought he’d delivered the desired halftime message to his Jacksonville State football team as he turned to leave the locker room late Saturday afternoon at Burgess-Snow Field.

Then he heard some of his seniors speak up.

Loud and clear.

“I got through with my two cents,” Crowe said, “and then they got up and took care (of the rest).”

The Gamecocks began the second half trailing one-win Austin Peay by two points. They ended it with a 38-23 victory in front of an announced crowd of 11,523, running their record to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

“One thing I like about this team is that our senior leadership is very vocal,” said tailback Washaun Ealey, one of 13 seniors who helped the Gamecocks finish 5-0 at home this season.

“We’ll call each other out. We knew they weren’t two points better than us. We made our adjustments, talked a little trash and got motivated.”

The defense, torched for 319 yards up to that point, buckled down, forcing a pair of three-and-outs. And the offense, on the field for only 22 plays in the first 30 minutes, went to work.

Senior quarterback Marques Ivory capped off a five-play, 66-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run off the read option. He followed that score with a 10-yard TD pass to Ealey five minutes later. Backup quarterback Coty Blanchard connected with Ealey again on the next drive from 27 yards out.

In a 10-minute span, Jacksonville State went from 16-14 down to the Governors (1-9, 0-7) to leading 35-16.

“Our fans mean the world to us. I think winning at home is really important,” said Crowe, who saw his team post its 18th come-from-behind win since the start of the 2010 season.

“Coming out in the second half, I think we played better, (but) we were really struggling to keep our focus defensively. We gave up more offensive yards to them than any other team. They had 30 more plays (than us).

Austin Peay opened up firing, quarterback Jake Ryan in particular. He shrugged off a first-drive interception by leading back-to-back scoring drives, culminating in a touchdown passes of 24 yards to Mikhail Creech and 20 yards to Devin Stark.

“We didn’t get off to a good start,” Crowe said.

The Gamecocks appeared to steady the ship when DaMarcus James crashed into the end zone from 7 yards out — one play after a 71-yard reception by senior Alan Bonner — less than two minutes into the second quarter. Ealey followed that with a 1-yard TD run six minutes later to knot the score at 14-all.

DaMarcus James runs the ball against Austin Peay.

The Governors had some chances to tack on more points, but kicker Stephen Stansell missed a 30-yard field goal and had a 31-yarder blocked. They did get a bit of a momentum boost late in the half, however, when Jacksonville State had a special teams boo-boo. A punt snap near the goal line sailed over the head of Hamish MacInnes, who directed the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 1:48 left in the second quarter.

Minutes later, the Gamecock seniors were sparing no words with their teammates.

“We came out kind of flat, in practice mode,” said Ealey, who finished with 80 yards rushing and another 38 receiving. “But we came together as a team.”

After racing past Austin Peay in the third quarter, Jacksonville State had to weather several threats over the final 15 minutes. The Governors got within 35-23 on Ryan’s 9-yard TD pass to Reco Williams at the 14:15 mark, and they reached the Gamecocks’ 14- and 24-yard line on two other drives later in the quarter, only to turn the ball over on downs.

A 60-yard run by James (13 carries, 149 yards) with less than three minutes to play basically settled matters, leaving Ivory and his fellow seniors feeling good about their last game at home.

“It’s a good thing,” said Ivory, who completed 10-of-14 passes for 107 yards. “To go undefeated at home, that’s a hard thing to do.”