JSU Football Beats North Alabama 31-12 In Season Opener
Senior quarterback Eli Jenkins picked up where he left off as No. 3 Jacksonville State opened the 2016 campaign with a victory over longtime rival North Alabama.
Jenkins accounted for 331 total yards and running back Roc Thomas, the former Oxford High star, ran for three touchdowns as the Gamecocks cruised to a 31-12 win before a crowd of 22,116 at Burgess-Snow Field.
Jacksonville State extended its regular-season winning streak against non-FBS foes to 22 games, dating back to 2013.
The Gamecocks scored two touchdowns in the game's first nine minutes and kept the pressure on UNA's overmatched offense all night. The Lions got within 12 points early in the third quarter, but Thomas added the last of his three TD runs and the teams swapped field goals the rest of the way.
"I thought we came out (of the game) pretty healthy, and we played really well defensively," Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. The Lions managed just 52 yards on 32 rushing attempts.
"They couldn't run the ball, and take away holding penalties against our defense that kept drives going for them and it would have been an outstanding night. It was still pretty good."
Jenkins, a first-team preseason All-American, threw for more than 200 yards and ran for over 100 yards for the third time in his illustrious career. Jenkins hit on 20-of-34 passes for 230 yards while running for 101 yards on 13 carries, including a 47-yarder for a touchdown in the second quarter.
"There were a lot of new faces out there. We're breaking some new guys in for sure," said Grass. "We've got some good talent.
"I think the receiving corps from top to bottom could potentially be as talented as we've had. We have to get some continuity but it's coming along."
Thomas, a former standout for Grass' teams at Oxford, was efficient in his first game wearing Gamecock red.
Thomas ran 20 times for 73 yards and scored on runs of one, nine and five yards. True freshman Tyus Flakes contributed 75 yards on 12 carries as the Gamecocks piled up 278 yards on the ground.
Jenkins engineered a methodical 17-play, 83-yard drive after the opening kickoff for a 7-0 JSU lead with 9:18 left in the first quarter. Jenkins' 47-yard TD sprint three minutes later extended the cushion to 14-0.
UNA got on the scoreboard on Jacob Tucker's nine-yard pass to Julius Jones with 3:32 remaining in second quarter.
Kevin Henke kicked field goals of 47 and 24 yards for the Lions in the third quarter. Gamecock kicker Cade Stinnett tacked on a 23-yarder with 6:25remaining for the game's final score.
Four Gamecocks - Delwyn Torbert, Marlon Bridges, Joel McCandless and Quan Stoudemire - recorded seven tackles to lead the stout defensive effort.
Jacksonville State steps up to face the top echelon of college football on Sept. 10 when it travels to face No. 5 LSU at Tiger Stadium.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
(Courtesy: JSU Sports Information: www.jsugamecocksports.com)