Jacksonville State finds poll after its rout of Redhawks

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jacksonville State's 38-7 win over visiting Southeast Missouri State in Saturday's Ohio Valley Conference opener was dominant virtually from start to finish.

It also must have opened some eyes outside the league because, earlier this week, the Gamecocks broke into the national rankings for the first time this year.

The 1-1 Gamecocks, who were also impressive in a season-opening loss at fourth-ranked Furman -- falling 17-13 after allowing a touchdown in the final 30 seconds -- check in at No. 25 in The Sports Network poll.

Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe admitted Tuesday during the OVC's weekly coaches teleconference that he does pay attention to the rankings. "It's good for your recruiting, it's good for your alumni," he said.

Jacksonville State outgained Southeast Missouri 473 to 163 in total yardage, and the Gamecocks held the Redhawks to just 70 yards through three quarters. It was the third-best game in terms of yardage allowed in Jacksonville State's Division I history.

The Gamecocks' performance left an impression on first-year Southeast Missouri coach Tony Samuel, whose squad suffered its initial loss of the season after two wins.

"First of all, Jacksonville State is a very good football team, well coached, very physical," Samuel said. "They did a great job, and we didn't."

Jacksonville State joins two other OVC teams -- Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky -- that remained in the national poll despite losing, giving the conference three ranked squads for the first time since the 2003 preseason.

"I think it's good for our league," Crowe said.

Eastern Illinois hung tough at sixth-ranked Illinois State before falling 44-30. The 1-2 Panthers dropped from 18th to 20th.

Eastern Kentucky could not hold a 17-7 halftime lead, as host Western Carolina rallied for a 20-17 victory. The 1-2 Colonels fell from 19th to 24th, while Western Carolina moved into the rankings at No. 22.

Tennessee State (2-1) notched the most exciting win among OVC squads last week, beating Jackson State 31-30 in overtime in front of 53,441 fans at the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tenn.

After Jackson State went ahead 30-23 to begin overtime, Tennessee State scored a touchdown and backup quarterback Richard Hartman was set to hold for an apparent tying extra-point kick.

But, after the snap was slightly off, Hartman picked the ball up and tossed a shovel pass to backup fullback Brandon Williams, who spun into the end zone for the winning two-point conversion.

It was not a called play, but Tennessee State coach James Webster said Hartman did as he was instructed given the circumstances.

"Let's put it this way, it's a play we practice on," Webster told the Tennessean newspaper. "If the hold of the snap breaks down, they know exactly what to do. Give Hartman and Brandon Williams all the credit."

Hartman, Tennessee State's starting quarterback most of last season, had not previously thrown a pass this year. He told the Tennessean that the play was something of a blur in his mind, and he never even saw Williams make the catch.

"It was just kind of a lay-it-up-there and see what happens," Hartman said. "I didn't see the catch, but I heard everybody holler and then everybody came and tackled me, so I figured he caught it."

The news, however, was not all good for the Tigers. North Carolina transfer Mike Mason, their leading receiver, will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered early during the contest.

Mason has 11 catches for 122 yards and seven kickoff returns for a 31.3-yard average.

Murray State (1-2) posted its first victory of the season, a wild 59-40 affair at Indiana State, as the Sycamores stretched the longest current losing streak in Division I football to 20 games.

Also victorious were Tennessee-Martin (2-1), which rolled past visiting Gardner-Webb 35-9; and Samford (2-1), which needed a late touchdown to beat visiting Austin Peay 17-10.

Tennessee Tech (0-3) remained the OVC's only winless squad as the Eagles lost 44-0 at Division I-A Middle Tennessee.

Players of the week

Murray State senior tailback Chad Cook is the OVC offensive player of the week, rushing for a career-high 223 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana State.

Murray State also won the defensive player of the week award as junior cornerback Derrick Parrott was honored. He had nine tackles, broke up two passes, blocked an extra-point attempt and returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.

Southeast Missouri senior punter David Simonhoff and Tennessee-Martin junior tailback Marcus Dawson earned specialist and newcomer honors, respectively.

Simonhoff punted eight times for an average of 51.2 yards against Jacksonville State. The All-American ranks No. 1 in Division I-AA with a 48.3-yard average.

Dawson, a transfer from Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College, earned his first start of the season and responded by rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown against Gardner-Webb. He replaced preseason All-American Donald Chapman, who has an ankle injury.

This week's games

There have been only two OVC games so far -- Jacksonville State and Tennessee State are the early leaders at 1-0 -- but the schedule heats up this week with three conference matchups.

Things get started Thursday as preseason favorite Eastern Kentucky visits Tennessee Tech.

Saturday, defending champion Eastern Illinois travels to Samford and Jacksonville State visits Tennessee-Martin.

Also Saturday, two nonleague games feature Murray State hosting Illinois State and Tennessee State visiting Division I-A Vanderbilt in the battle of Nashville.

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